Missouri's endangered water resources need everyone's help
The Kansas City Star
When I first moved to Springfield in 1997 to teach at Missouri State, one local attraction immediately caught my eye. It wasn’t the grand displays at Bass Pro Shops or ribs at Crosstown Barbeque (which I enjoyed, of course). Instead, I was most impressed by something else—the water.
I quickly learned that Ozark waterways are the cornerstone of life in the region. Locals know that the fishing, tourism, and water recreation industries have held up their economy, especially during hard times. I firmly believe that this strong appreciation for Ozark waterways is the reason so many residents have gotten involved in protecting them. In the past 15 years, I have seen government agencies, environmental groups, farmers, and businesses all do their part to protect their water. Now, in the face of a serious threat, it’s time for everyday people like you and I to get involved.
Since the 1990s, Ozark waterways have been threatened by excess nitrogen and phosphorous. When it rains, nitrogen and phosphorous from over-fertilized lawns and polluted storm drains are carried into local waters—triggering slimy green algal blooms that rob the water of oxygen and kill off fish and other aquatic life. These nutrients can make swimming unhealthy, force anglers to find fish elsewhere, and make water suppliers use expensive treatment methods to ensure water is safe for consumption.
Fortunately, since the 90s, the City of Springfield and state governments have worked together to fund improvements to the local water treatment plant. These improvements have consistently helped the plant remove more nitrogen and phosphorous from local waterways, but it doesn’t come cheap. The money used to manage nitrogen and phosphorous could be better spent on other, more positive, social needs.
Although improving the treatment plant helps, it’s a temporary fix. Nitrogen and phosphorous levels continue to grow as nothing has been done to address the land-based sources of the problem. This is where another local group comes in.
MSU’s Ozarks Environmental and Water Resources Institute (OEWRI) has become the regional leader in monitoring local waterways. OEWRI staff and students work with local governments and watershed groups like the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks, James River Basin Partnership, and Upper White River Basin Foundation to determine sources of nutrients in waterways and help find real solutions to the problem using scientific studies. Their work is largely funded by grants to complete environmental studies in the Ozarks, and it has helped students see the impact of too much nitrogen and phosphorous in our water. They regularly see the water quality degradation that threatens swimming holes, fishing trips and everything else that depends on clean water.
As Director of OEWRI, I have proudly watched my students take on many sources of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution—particularly in the James River—where they’ve used both science and community outreach to address the problem. To date, my staff and students have created water quality monitoring plans for Finley Creek, educated community members about quality issues in the Bennett Spring Watershed, and monitored the quality of the Upper White River Basin and Jordan Creek. They are currently tracking nutrient pollution in the Pearson Creek Watershed and examining urban water quality in the cities of Springfield, Nixa, Ozark, and Battlefield as well as the counties of Christian and Greene.
My team at the institute typically includes two staff and up to 12 students, but I’ve never seen such a small group work so hard to have a big impact.
Although it’s good to know that governments and community groups are already working on the problem, the real solution to nitrogen and phosphorous pollution comes from community efforts.
We need to channel the respect residents have for their waterways into making simple changes in waste treatment, farming, gardening, and other activities that lead to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.
What my students, local water groups, and area governments really need to make an impact is help from all of us – modest changes in our own behavior that will translate to a more sustainable balance between our everyday activities and the breathtaking waterways in the region.
If we all do a little bit, we can preserve the Ozark’s water and our local way of life. Here are five suggestions:
1) Reduce fertilizer and pesticide use: Limiting fertilizer use, employing phosphorous-free brands, and simply following product instructions can significantly reduce the amount of pollution that runs off into local waterways.
2) Reduce soil erosion and uncontrolled land disturbance: Nitrogen and phosphorous-rich runoff from construction sites, fields, and urban areas must not be allowed to enter waterways.
3) Properly maintain septic systems: Septic systems need to be installed correctly and cleaned-out periodically to prevent leaking wastes into underground springs and local streams.
4) Purchase low chemical household items: Although Springfield has banned phosphates in laundry and dishwasher detergents, several other high chemical products can be traded for their eco-friendly equals.
5) Collect and dispose of trash and pet waste properly: These items should never be left on surfaces where they might be swept away by rain.
Some industries could take steps to reduce their water pollution and their customers could reward them for their efforts. The simple fact is that we all have a role here – and a responsibility to the waters that give so much to us.
Ready to take the first step?
To learn more about the Ozarks Environmental and Water Resources Institute and its work in the community, visit http://oewri.missouristate.edu/.
Robert Pavlowsky is a professor in the Department of Geography, Geology, and Planning at Missouri State University with a PhD in geography and specialties in geomorphology, environmental geochemistry, soils, and water quality. He is the Director of the Geospatial Science Master of Science Program where he actively mentors students completing theses on watershed science and monitoring. Pavlowsky is also Director of the Ozarks Environmental and Water Resources Institute, the regional leader in water quality monitoring, analysis, and interpretation.