Federal Review of Missouri Parks’ Drinking Water Sought
Whistleblower Cites Contaminated Water in State Parks and Lax Enforcement
Washington, DC — Some Missouri state parks have a troubling number of violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to a call for a federal enforcement review made today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Since 2010, state park water systems have incurred 14 health-based violations for total coliform bacteria and two violations for E. coli.
PEER is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Office to review compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act inside Missouri parks, which are overseen by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR has the dual role of both administering 83 state parks and historic sites visited by 18 million people annually and of regulating the state’s approximately 2,800 public water systems – 44 of which are within the state park system.
The PEER complaint profiles Cuivre River State Park in Lincoln County, just north of St. Louis. Each of the park’s three systems reports safe drinking water violations. Those serving Camp Derricotte had six maximum contaminant level violations of the Total Coliform Rule in the seven months that is was open during fiscal year 2012, one of them for E. coli. Two of the park’s three systems do not have water treatment systems of any kind, despite chronic bacteriological problems.
DNR’s enforcement policies require that chronically troubled water systems enter into a bilateral compliance agreement with the DNR to ensure future compliance. To date no compliance agreement exists for Cuivre River State Park. Records show no formal warning letters with the only hint of an enforcement action on record being a computer generated mailing.
“Now is the time to address the safety of park water systems before many of them reopen to the public this spring,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Kathryn Douglass who filed the complaint with EPA. “The state appears to enforce drinking water rules much more rigorously against systems other than its own facilities.”
State park water contamination issues are not new. A report released by the Missouri State Auditor in 2004 found “numerous incidents where the state parks had not complied with federal and state drinking water regulations or division water testing policies, and therefore could not be assured that park visitors were provided water safe for consumption.”
Although EPA has recognized Missouri’s Water Protection Program as the primacy agency for the Safe Drinking Water Act and delegated enforcement authority to it, EPA retains authority, as well, and can take direct action against violators. In addition, EPA can sanction the state if it finds the state program falls below minimum federal standards.
The PEER complaint was filed jointly with Patricia Ritchie, who for 19 years was the DNR public notice coordinator for safe drinking water compliance until she was separated from state service late last year. In 2002, Ms. Ritchie initially reported concerns of drinking water safety at Missouri state parks to the State Auditor. That office launched an investigation in 2003 and issued the report in 2004 confirming Ms. Ritchie’s concerns. She has challenged her dismissal under the state whistleblower protection law. Her whistleblower case comes before the Administrative Hearing Commission later this month. She is represented by George Smith of Johnson & Smith, L.L.C. in Columbia, Missouri.