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Springfield recognized in EPA Congressional report as leader in addressing water quality issues

Published: Aug. 13, 2021 at 6:42 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - In a report to Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency has recognized Springfield for its leadership role in water quality management.

And where would we be without water?

It’s a must for sustaining life and whether we’re drinking it, playing in it, fishing in it, washing clothes in it or just watching it flow or fall, water is an integral part of our daily existence.

While the need for clean water is one of the few things we can all agree on during these divisive times, most of us who live in communities take for granted that the systems that make it possible will be taken care of so that we can enjoy healthy lives.

But that infrastructure comes at a high cost plus a lot of federal regulations whether it’s sewers, wastewater treatment plants or storm water runoff systems.

The first major U.S. law to address water pollution came in 1948. As public concern continued to grow about controlling water pollution, there were sweeping amendments added in 1972 and the law became known as the Clean Water Act.

All communities now deal with a lot of different environmental regulations relating to water, air and land quality and they can be quite costly.

“The EPA realized this so back in 2012 they released a memo that encouraged communities to try and integrate some of their storm water and waste water mandates together,” explained Errin Kemper, Springfield’s Environmental Services Director. “So leaders from the city of Springfield, Greene County and City Utilities got together and agreed on a more holistic approach to how we deal with all these different environmental regulations.”

Springfield formed a task force at the time, and as Kemper put it, set out “to protect the environment in a way that provides the most benefit for the least amount of cost.”

And they must have done something right because recently when the EPA sent a report to Congress updating how their water quality initiatives were being implemented around the country, Springfield was one of the cities featured in their report for succeeding in improving water quality through the use of an integrated planning approach.

“The report highlighted Springfield as one of only 13 communities in the entire country that has an approved integrated plan,” Kemper said. “A large part of the reason why the concept ended up in the legislation was because Springfield had really led the way nationally on how we put these different pieces together. Our methodology has been used in a lot of other places around the country.”

Springfield’s integrated plan is to extensive to go though entirely but there are some interesting parts of that plan that you probably wouldn’t even notice even though you may go by it every day.

For instance all around town (like in an area in front of the city’s headquarters at the Busch Building and at the intersection of Fort and Sunset) you’ll see areas with grasses and flowering perennials known as “rain gardens”, a cost effective and beautiful way to reduce runoff.

“The rain garden captures storm water runoff and captures any of the pollutants that run off with that rainwater,” Kemper said.

Another example is the Clean Pavement Initiative.

“Jordan Creek and Wilsons Creek here in Springfield are on the state’s impaired list for a compound called PAH’s,” Kemper explained. “It’s a chemical that impacts the biodiversity of a stream. One source (of PAH) is coal-tar based sealants used to seal up a parking lot. Community leaders got together and developed the Clean Pavement Initiative where businesses in the community can volunteer to NOT use coal-tar based sealants.”

Then there is the constant effort to monitor and clean out the city’s aging sewer system.

“Springfield has been under a consent judgement with the state of Missouri since about 1995 to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act,” Kemper said. “And that requires us to invest a lot of money in our sanitary sewer system. Places like St. Louis and Kansas City are looking at investments in the billions of dollars. So Springfield proposed a phased approach through our integrated plan to make sure that we’re always focused on the things that need to be done the most to try and prevent sanitary sewer overflows that have an impact on water quality. In fact the latest version of this proposal that was approved by city council this spring requires a few rate increases but we hope to be able to fund the $300 million over the next 15 years using only inflationary-type rate increases on our sewer system. This is good news compared to where we were several years ago when we were looking at those environmental mandates and they were going to lead to really, really big sewer rate increases.”

A lot of Springfield’s sanitary sewer system has been in place for at least 100 years.

“It’s old,” Kemper said. “But it’s a critical utility in this community and I know lot of folks don’t think about it because it’s underneath our feet but if we didn’t have a sanitary sewer system, it’s the thing that allows us to live this close to each other. There is a lot of needed investment in that system but the key to saving money is to find a way to address the structural integrity as well as address the sewer overflows that impact water quality. So you spend that dollar once and try to cover multiple things with it.”

So yes, while we may not pay attention unless something goes wrong, the city’s effort to fight pollution in our natural resources is a never-ending challenge, even after a pat on the back from the EPA.

“Whether it’s the air we breathe or the water we drink or the green spaces that we enjoy around our community, all of these contribute to our quality of life,” Kemper pointed out. “And this is the way to efficiently manage all those systems.”

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