MRC Group Sues US EPA to Protect Missouri Lakes

Today, Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not protecting Missouri lakes for recreation and drinking water use, and therefore not protecting human health.

“Without scientific support for how it would protect public health, Governor Parson’s DNR removed drinking water protections from its proposed  lake nutrient criteria,” said Heather Navarro, MCE’s Executive Director. “The new regulations only apply once a lake or reservoir is polluted. This is one of many examples of how Governor Parson and Missouri lawmakers are eroding clean water protections by making our laws and regulations reactive at a time when they should be preventing pollution.”

Today, MCE filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri against the EPA alleging its 2018 approval of Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lake nutrient criteria was arbitrary and capricious, and the EPA continues to violate its mandatory duty to issue effective nitrogen and phosphorus standards for lakes in Missouri. MCE believes this lawsuit is necessary to protect and improve Missouri’s valuable water resources for the health and safety of Missourians. 

“We’ve known for decades that nutrient pollution is a public health hazard, yet DNR has failed to deal with these issues responsibly for more than ten years,” said Elizabeth Hubertz, Director of Washington University’s Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic (IEC).

In 2009, DNR adopted nutrient standards for lakes as a first step toward setting standards on all waters. Two years later in 2011, these standards were disapproved by the EPA because Missouri did not demonstrate that they were protective of aquatic life and recreational uses. Additionally, the EPA found that Missouri’s proposed standards were not based on sound scientific rationale. However, in December 2018, the EPA approved a set of standards that were mostly the same as the ones it rejected seven years earlier.

Former DNR Director and current MCE board member, Stephen Mahfood, said “DNR has known for years what it needs to do and has the technical expertise to get the job done right. This lawsuit compels action that should have been taken years ago if not for the lack of leadership at the state level and now the federal level.”

The rapid industrialization of agriculture for food and energy is increasing nutrient pollution, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus. Nutrients are important to a healthy ecosystem in moderation. However, excessive nutrient runoff from industrial agriculture operations and wastewater systems deplete oxygen in water, causing dangerous algal blooms and ultimately dead zones that negatively impact recreation and public health. Rising temperatures and the increased intensity of precipitation via snow or rain also make algal blooms more prevalent. Missouri is one of the largest contributors to the annual dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is the size of Massachusetts this year. Nutrient pollution negatively impacting the dead zone in the Gulf are the same contaminants threatening Missouri’s lakes and reservoirs.

Joe Pitts, former DNR staff, former Director of James River Basin Partnership, and current MCE member from Springfield said, “while I no longer eat the fish that I catch in Lake Springfield, I hope that one day our government will protect our water so we can fish and swim in this lake without the fear of getting sick.”

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