Oct 30, 2009

EPA Calls on Missouri to Set New Water Quality Standards for Segment of Mississippi River

Action directs state to address area to protect public health for recreational uses

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that the State of Missouri needs new or revised water quality standards to protect a 28.6-mile segment of the Mississippi River around St. Louis that flows from North Riverfront Park to the confluence of the Meramec River. The EPA action directs the state to address this area of the Mississippi River to protect public health for recreational uses such as tubing, water-skiing and swimming.

“It is imperative that Missouri take necessary action to protect users of the Mississippi River from high levels of pathogens and bacteria largely resulting from untreated wastewater,” said Art Spratlin, EPA Region 7 water, wetlands and pesticides division director. “We've found that people engage in recreational activities in this part of the Mississippi River and downstream, so their health must be protected.”

Following the action, Missouri will have the opportunity to review its analysis and collect additional information to revise its water quality standards and resubmit them to the EPA for approval.

The Mississippi River upstream, downstream and across the Illinois state line from this 28.6-mile segment near St. Louis is designated for what is referred to as primary contact recreation, also known as whole body contact recreation. In its determination, the EPA explained that Missouri has not demonstrated that whole body contact recreation cannot be attained in this portion of the river. The determination also finds that Missouri has not shown that its current standards will protect downstream waters as required by federal regulations.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District is discussing with the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) plans to address issues with combined sewer overflows, and the recent action should further help to protect water quality for local citizens.

The MDNR earlier had sought the more protective standard, but the Clean Water Commission refused to approve that approach, according to the EPA.

The EPA made a determination in December 2008 that portions of the Mississippi River upstream and downstream of St. Louis also should be protected for whole body contact recreation. Missouri recently revised its water quality standards in response to this earlier determination, and the EPA anticipates that the state will soon be submitting those revisions to the EPA for final review.