MCE advocates for nutrient pollution protections on our lakes, rivers, and streams.

  • MCE settled a lawsuit on 12/7/16 against the USEPA compelling the Agency to develop numeric water quality standards for Missouri lakes by 12/15/17. Read more here.
  • EPA published their draft standards on 12/18/17 which were officially published in the Federal Register on 12/27/2017. They offered two proposals, one is the DNR proposal that had been deemed inadequate by the prior EPA administrator and environmental advocates because it is not scientifically sound and does not provide adeuqate protection for waterways as sources for drinking water. The other proposal also falls short of Clean Water Act standards. Adopting such low standards risks the health of Missourians’ and puts private interests over public health.
  • Meanwhile, Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) are pushing forward their own plan as well that has now been approved by the state Clean Water Commission and will soon go to USEPA for approval.

In a clear choice in favor of politics and polluters over science and public health, EPA and MDNR proposed alternatives that will do nearly nothing to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Missouri’s lakes. Both agencies are advancing reactive approaches which will allow water quality to degrade to the point that the water is unsafe. These proposals set a poor precedent for protecting our waters and for other states in the Mississippi River basin.

  • In a second suit, a US District Court decided on 12/15/16 that EPA’s lack of resources and capacity renders it unable to adequately address nutrient pollution in Mississippi River basin states. MCE, the Gulf Resoration Network, and other environmental groups as part of the Mississippi River Collaborative lost their lawsuit demanding EPA step in to regulate nutrient pollution in light of decades of state inaction.

Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, are a natural part of the ecosystem. These elements are essential to the growth of plants. However, excess nutrients cause an overgrowth of algae in aquatic systems—more than the system can handle. As algae flourishes, it blocks the light entering the water that other plant life rely on to grow and thrive. When plants die, they consume oxygen as they decompose. When the overabundance of algae and the light-starved submerged vegetation die, they are no exception and cause massive depletion of dissolved oxygen. Excess nutrients are the perfect storm for an impaired, non-functioning river or lake. No life—fish, aquatic invertebrates (bugs), nor plant life—can survive in an oxygen-depleted ecosystem. Hypoxic conditions occur when there is little oxygen available for aquatic life resulting in fish kills and further ecosystem impairments. In cases of extreme nutrient pollution, known as anoxia, the oxygen levels are so low that all oxygen is eliminated from the aquatic system and all organisms die. The most prominent example of this is the 5,500+ square mile area in the Gulf of Mexico—also known as the Dead Zone—a result of nutrient-polluting human activity on land. Read more about nutrient pollution from the EPA

Nutrient Criteria

The Clean Water Act requires states to designate uses on waters in its boundaries and establish Water Quality Standards (WQS) including the development of numeric nutrient criteria. In December 2014, Missouri’s Deparment of Natural Resources released a Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NRS) for the state. The NRS is a first step in outlining the best management practices (BMP) and activities that reduce nutrient loading in our waters; however, numeric limits on allowable nutrient pollution, as required by law, are necessary to achieve and maintain water quality.

In 2011, EPA disapproved the state’s proposed numeric nutrient criteria for lakes requiring Missouri to resubmit a new proposal. Several attempts at drafting revised versions were halted by special interests who fear regulation will hurt their bottom line. Four years later, the most recent draft developed by DNR and other stakeholders was proposed in the Nutrient Criteria Technical Subcommittee.

On November 6, 2015, MCE sent a Notice of Intent to File Suit to EPA alleging violation of US EPA’s mandatory duty to issue effective standards when the state does not take action on its own.  MCE officially filed suit on February 24 following a 60-day waiting period.

Concurrently, Missouri is developing a Water Quality Trading (WQT) program. WQT is a market-based mechanism to achieve water quality goals at lower costs to permittees. Trading programs like this one rely on the fact that some polluters can reduce their discharge more easily than others.  In this case, farmers can undertake inexpensive projects to limit the amount of runoff from their fields to meet water quality standards while industrial polluters would have to construct costly changes to their facilities to reduce the same amount of nutrient pollution.  Those who reduce their discharge below their allotted quantity determined by the nutrient criteria can then sell the difference to buyers to whom purchasing nutrient pollution credits is more economical.

When compared to the traditional command and control model of regulation where government authorities would simply mandate that each polluter limit their discharge to a specified amount, trading progams are much more flexible.  Trading programs allow for the water quality standards to be met in a manner than minimizes the negative economic impact of regulation.  Importantly, the program will need benchmarks such as numeric criteria to meaningfully set the caps for regulated entities.  MCE supports the implementation of water quality trading under the essential condition that water quality is ultimately improved.  Read more about Water Quality Trading