Missouri Parks’ Drinking Water Passes Federal Muster
Contaminated Water Confirmed in State Parks during 2012 Peak Visitation Season
Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found Missouri state parks “generally compliant” with the Safe Drinking Water Act but did confirm coliform bacteria violations during 2012, according to an enforcement review posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER had requested the federal review based upon reports from a long-time safe drinking water compliance officer for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) concerning chronic health-based violations in park units without effective enforcement action.
In the EPA reply dated March 21, 2013, Karen Flournoy, the Director of EPA’s Region 7 Water, Wetlands and Pesticides Division, stated that there was “no systematic absence” of DNR enforcement against “non-compliant” park drinking water systems and that the rate of park violations “is better than the compliance performance of similar Missouri systems since 2009.” That assurance, however, carried notes of concern:
- More than 10% of Missouri public water systems had total coliform violations in 2012. While parks in general fared better than that, compliance in state park units has declined since 2009;
- Two of the park units cited by PEER had enough violations to make them “a priority for enforcement” during the summer months of 2012, when park visitation was at its highest; and
- One of those park units had multiple violations for three-quarters of the year, yet DNR took no enforcement action as required by EPA’s own Enforcement Response Policy.
“We are glad that EPA finished this review before many of the state parks reopen to the public this spring,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Kathryn Douglass who filed the complaint with EPA this February. “We were surprised, however, by the lack of rigor EPA displayed and its nonchalant attitude about the public being exposed for months to contaminated water while in a state park.”
PEER points to a section of the EPA response that states that violations at one park appear to have been “addressed by the installation of a chlorination system in May 2012. Since that time, the database indicates that adequate chlorine residual have been maintained in the distribution system…” This assessment is based upon monthly collection of biological samples, yet state and federal law require disinfectant levels to be tested on a daily basis. There is no indication this has been done at the worst park offenders. Moreover, 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 these park units.
“EPA has set an uncomfortably low threshold for Safe Drinking Water Act compliance in Missouri,” Douglass added.
In Missouri, DNR is responsible for Safe Drinking Water Act compliance in the state’s approximately 2,800 public water systems – 44 of which are within the state park system, which is also operated by DNR.