Gov. Nixon announces clean water proposal to improve water quality at Lake of the Ozarks

December 29, 2009
Legislative proposal would provide enhanced authority to stop new pollution from flowing when water quality is distressed
Jefferson City, MO

Gov. Jay Nixon today announced a legislative proposal that would give the Missouri Clean Water Commission and Department of Natural Resources authority to prevent new pollution sources from contaminating distressed bodies of water.  That authority would include the ability to limit permits and inspect a broader range of facilities when the water quality is under serious stress.  Gov. Nixon said his administration would move immediately under the new law, if passed, to designate the Lake of the Ozarks for these enhanced protections.

The Governor's proposal would allow bodies of water that are accessible to the public to be designated as "distressed" by the Missouri Clean Water Commission, which would immediately trigger heightened scrutiny for those seeking permits within the vicinity of the distressed body.  It also would give the Department of Natural Resources and Clean Water Commission enhanced authority for inspection and enforcement of waste water treatment facilities. 

"My proposal represents an important step forward in improving water quality at the Lake of the Ozarks and other waterways because the status quo simply is not good enough," Gov. Nixon said.  "This legislation is about giving us tools to limit the pollutants and waste that flow into our waters so they have the time they need to cleanse and renew themselves naturally.  On average, approximately 26,800 cubic feet of water flow out of the lake through the Bagnell Dam each second, and if we limit the pollutants that flow in, we'll see it become a healthier body of water."

Under Gov. Nixon's proposal, the Missouri Clean Water Commission would be granted the statutory authority to designate the Lake of the Ozarks or other publicly accessible bodies of water as "distressed" based on the best available scientific information.  The commission would have broad discretion in making the determination, and would be required to provide an opportunity for public input prior to making its finding.

Gov. Nixon said if his proposal is enacted in law, his administration would begin the process to designate the Lake of the Ozarks as distressed, based on the decades-long record of historical data showing high levels of bacteria and the closure of public beaches several times this past summer.

"Preserving Missouri's water is of critical importance, and it has long been clear that the Lake of the Ozarks is a resource in need of more stringent protection," Gov. Nixon said.  "Recent sampling results have reinforced what many of us have believed for years: the lake is heavily used but under-protected, and action is needed to change that equation.  With stronger statutes that allow for more forceful action for designated waters, I'll be the first to push to make sure the Lake of the Ozarks is designated as a distressed body, and I strongly believe the Clean Water Commission will agree with me."

Under the terms of the proposal, after the Clean Water Commission designates a water body as distressed, the commission and the Department of Natural Resources would be required to use heightened scrutiny in the permitting process in order to prevent new pollution.  Specifically, the proposal would allow regulators to:

  • Cease issuance of permits to applicants in the affected area. Exceptions could be granted by the commission where it deems proper, such as where an applicant plans to connect a new facility to an existing central sewage system, if the director of DNR concurs with the permit and its conditions;
  • Begin inspection and enforcement of any and all on-site waste water treatment facilities which are currently not required to have permits, such as septic systems, package plants and lagoons. Operators of facilities that are contributing to the contamination of the lake could then be ordered by DNR to clean out their systems, connect with existing sewer systems, or cease and desist from use of the facility; and
  • Conduct investigations, including water quality monitoring, geologic reviews and facility inspections to determine how to improve water quality in the distressed body, and to determine if and when a body is no longer distressed.

The proposal gives the agencies charged with protecting clean water substantially greater power to control the flow of pollution into the Lake of the Ozarks from the entire range of waste water facilities, when water quality is at risk.  The cessation of new permits limits new sources of effluent from further distressing the water; enhanced enforcement authority ensures current permit holders are meeting their obligations; and the extension of inspections to previously unregulated facilities extends scrutiny to a key culprit which has previously received little attention.

"When water quality at the Lake of the Ozarks deteriorates to a certain level, we must have additional tools to ensure that no further damage is done," Gov. Nixon said.  "Based on my existing knowledge of the lake, and after being briefed on the baseline water quality study and inspection sweep I ordered this fall, it is clear to me that Missouri must have more robust powers for dealing with pollution when we see the signs of contamination.  If passed, my proposal will greatly strengthen our hand."

In September, Gov. Nixon ordered an inspection sweep of 419 facilities with waste water permits in the vicinity of the Lake of the Ozarks, as well as a comprehensive baseline water quality survey.  The Department of Natural Resources submitted the final results of this effort to the Governor's office.  The results noted that 82 notices of violation and 48 letters of warning were issued to non-compliant permit holders as a result of the inspections undertaken during the sweep, and that sampling done in connection with the sweep yielded 24 letters of warning and 20 notices of violation.  Ninety-two of the violations have since been returned to compliance, while 41 violators have been referred to the DNR's Water Protection Program for further enforcement action.

"Our recent enforcement sweep demonstrated that some serious deficiencies at existing waste water facilities.  We will continue to take an aggressive approach to inspection and enforcement, so that polluters are stopped from doing further damage and are held responsible for their actions," Gov. Nixon said.

Results of the baseline water quality survey were posted online on Nov. 20, 2009.  Those results and the results of the inspection sweep are available online at: