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The Clean Water Commission usually attempts to delist a handful of rivers and streams when the 303(d) list comes up for review every two years. Ken Midkiff, of the Sierra Club's Clean Water Campaign (a sister program to the Water Sentinels), explains the commission's logic.
"Take the Big River," Midkiff says. That river, located in mining country southwest of St. Louis, is impaired by lead. "That means that the Doe Run Co., one of the few lead-mining companies left in Missouri, cannot put any discharge into that river containing lead because the river already exceeds that standard," Midkiff says. "You can't do anything that would increase the Big River's impairment for lead. That limits industries and municipalities severely. That's why the Clean Water Commission wants to limit the number of waterways on the 'impaired' list as much as possible — it really benefits polluters."
The Jacks Fork River in Shannon County is an example of a river that was taken off the 303(d) list in 2008. An eight-mile stretch of the Jacks Fork had been listed as impaired in 2004 and 2006 because of high bacteria counts. The source: horse feces from Cross Country Trail Ride, a tourist destination in Eminence. Cross Country Trail Ride boards as many as 3,000 horses on its riverside property and leads tour groups of hundreds of riders at a time. Photos from the company's website indicate that at least part of the trail is aquatic; riders are in the Jacks Fork, their horses calf-deep and splashing as the tour follows its course downstream.
After the Jacks Fork was delisted, it was placed on a DNR watch list, to be monitored under "Total Maximum Daily Load" standards.
"All TMDL means," Midkiff says, "is that there's this lengthy document that is prepared by the DNR and the EPA that goes through the different sources of the problem with that river and recommends ways that the problem can be dealt with."
The removal of the Jacks Fork from the impaired-waters list would imply that its conditions have improved, but Midkiff thinks otherwise. "The Jacks Fork remains impaired due to shit — excuse the language," he says. "It is a highly used float stream, but there is no indication to people that the stream is unhealthy for human contact. One recommendation the DNR and EPA made was to limit the horse crossings at the Jacks Fork. It's not a requirement. It's not compulsory. It's strictly voluntary. I think they should go further."
Seyer, the jogger whose dog was sickened by bacteria, wants to see Kiefer Creek added to the state's impaired-waters list. But when he presented his E. coli findings to the Clean Water Commission at its meeting in St. Louis in November, he found the commissioners unresponsive.
"They let me go on for 45 minutes," Seyer says. "Their heads were nodding, falling asleep."
The source of the E. coli in Kiefer Creek, Seyer believes, is the bungalow-style houses that were built, in the 1940s and '50s, upstream a half-mile from the edge of Castlewood State Park. The bungalows aren't hooked up to the sewers of the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District. Instead, they store waste in underground septic tanks. Seyer says those aging tanks may be leaking into the groundwater and the spring that feeds Kiefer Creek.
After Seyer's presentation, Kathleen Logan Smith, executive director of the nonprofit Missouri Coalition for the Environment, spoke in support of Seyer's conclusions. A representative from the DNR then moved to go on to the meeting's next agenda item. After that, the commissioners began gathering their things. The meeting was ending, but Seyer hadn't received an answer.