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Changing EPA guidelines are focus on conference in Monett

Monday, May 9, 2011

New regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will impact local towns were discussed at the water and wastewater conference for the southwest section, which was held last week at the Monett City Park Casino.

Jacques Martineau, a water specialist with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR), spoke about changes in the groundwater rule announced by the EPA in December 2010. According to Martineau, DNR must enforce the federal policies and pass new standards on to operators of public water systems.

DNR staff have been charged with inspecting all 1,500 public drinking water systems in the southwest section in three years. To accomplish that, DNR's local staff has increased from nine to 20 people.

During the inspections, DNR staff will ask for plans to conduct an electronic sanitary survey. Questions not asked in years will be addressed, even for systems that operate perfectly. An inspector will have to answer 4,000 questions for a city like Monett.

"Don't take it personally," Martineau said. "It's a balancing act to please EPA and to serve the public."

The new rules call for a number of changes. Use of pellet chlorinators for water systems will be eliminated. Water tests will look for different contaminants, such as perfluorinated compounds, which are plastics that dissolve off clothing in the wash that have started showing up in water supplies.

In a more significant move, Martineau said DNR will reclassify any water system used for hand washing as a public system. Previously only systems used for drinking water had to meet the stricter standard. This change will mean that gas stations and rest stops will have to take water samples and meet water quality standards, Martineau said.

The enforcement response policy historically treated all violations equally. The new policy places a point value on violations. Once a public system surpasses 11 points, the violation will be deemed "nationally significant" and will prompt enforcement action, though what action will be taken is not yet clear.

EPA's new policy emphasizes a return to compliance, Martineau said. Any violations found over the last five years will be added. While Missouri has a two-year statute of limitations on violations, Martineau did not know how that would affect EPA's practice.

In practice, if a town had no violations in six months, old violations would be erased. High point violations were likely to require a monetary penalty.

In the future, if a water test confirms the presence of the coliform bacteria, shock chlorination and subsequent water samples will not be a sufficient response. Martineau said operators will be obligated to make an assessment of the system to determine the bacteria's origin. Paperwork to show the problem was eliminated will be required.

Gail Melgren, director of the Tri-State Water Coalition, discussed plans to create an impounded water source to serve southwest Missouri communities in lieu of arrangements to use lake water when deep water wells are no longer an option.

Roddy Rogers, manager of water treatment and supply for City Utilities in Springfield, who also serves as president of the Tri-State Water Coalition, reviewed how Springfield secured Stockton Lake as a water source. The effort involved getting public support and building a pipeline.

"It's a political process: other people's money and land, and everybody's water," Rogers said.

Monett Mayor Jim Orr gave the official greeting to open the conference. Orr said next year the City Park Casino may be in the middle of renovations. The city would try to find another location for the program.

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