Regulators, environmentalists and scientists split on how to keep Missouri's lakes clean

Regulators, environmentalists and scientists split on how to keep Missouri's lakes clean

Federal and state regulators disagree on how pollution from runoff should be addressed

On a bright, brisk winter day in Branson, Mo., several dedicated fishermen tried to catch trout in Lake Taneycomo, a fast-moving, ribbon-shaped lake that snakes around the city.

The water appeared clear, but the lake has some ongoing issues, said David Casaletto, executive director of Ozarks Water Watch, a water quality group. For example, heavy rains in the summer have caused low levels of dissolved oxygen, which has hurt the trout population.

Under a recently proposed water quality rule from the Environmental Protection Agency, Lake Taneycomo, Mark Twain Lake and Lake of the Ozarks are among 113 lakes and reservoirs in Missouri that would be defined as “impaired” or too polluted for human use.

But the three lakes would not be considered polluted under the state’s proposal, which would list 34 lakes. Federal and state regulators disagree on how pollution from runoff should be addressed, and environmentalists are also divided on what approach should be taken.

Bodies of water that are labeled impaired would require a cleanup plan that would likely involve putting stricter controls on nearby wastewater treatment plants. Lake Taneycomo needs some improvement, but the water quality is not so severe that it needs a cleanup plan, said Casaletto.

“Why would you call this [lake] impaired? People are fishing here today while we’re out here,” Casaletto said. “It’s a viable fishery for trout.”

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the EPA are working on regulations to address nutrient pollution in lakes and reservoirs that are larger than 10 acres, such as Lake Taneycomo. Nutrient pollution occurs when pesticide and fertilizer runoff from agriculture or discharges from wastewater treatment facilities overload bodies of water with nitrogen and phosphorus. While the nutrients are an essential part of aquatic life, excessive amounts can render waters unsuitable for drinking or recreation, and cause fish kills, algal blooms and dead zones.