As president of Upper White River Basin Partnership, John Moore has long been a proponent of the Bi-State Water Agreement now in place. Missouri and Arkansas share the water resources of the basin.
As president of Upper White River Basin Partnership, John Moore has long been a proponent of the Bi-State Water Agreement now in place. Missouri and Arkansas share the water resources of the basin.
Water quality and quantity are among the most important environmental issues in the Ozarks - and not just for drinking.

Missouri and Arkansas are working together to protect their shared resources in the White River Basin, which runs from Arkansas into Missouri and back into Arkansas and includes the James River.

The White River also is the source of three manmade reservoirs: Lake Taneycomo, Table Rock Lake and Bull Shoals Lake.

Protecting water quality is particularly important for Branson-area resorts that tap into those waters to offer amenities to visitors.

The area touts more than 200 lodging facilities with nearly 19,000 rooms, and many of those have direct access to waterfront property, according to the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CVB also notes that visitor polls show more than 40 percent of visitors to the area participate in lake or other water activities during their visit.

It's those numbers that make water quality so important to area businesses.

"It's our livelihood," said John Vreeland, owner of Trout Hollow Lodge on Lake Taneycomo. "People come to visit us because of our unique location on the side of a clean lake that is conducive to trout. If water quality deteriorated, people would be less likely to show up."

Spirit of cooperation

In November, the governors of the two states signed the Bi-State Water Agreement, which pledges that the two states will cooperate on issues involving the water resources the two states share.

John Moore, president of the Upper White River Basin Partnership, said his group is among those that has been pushing for years for such an agreement.

"Our foundation has worked on this for several years, and we brought it into pretty tight focus about a year ago with a letter signed by all our trustees to then-Gov. Matt Blunt and Gov. Mike Beebe," Moore said.

It is unclear what impact the agreement will have on economic development and the business environment in the two states, as the agreement doesn't spell out specific steps the two states will be taking in the future through their respective natural resource departments.

Several business owners on area lakes said improved standards would be beneficial.

"If people don't keep shorelines clean, you get tons and tons of debris in the water - not only debris like limbs and trees, but garbage," said Lamar Patton, owner of Scotty's Dock and Marina on Lake Taneycomo. "We're all supposed to be good stewards on the lake, and that's what we try to do, but just when you think you've been amazed by what people will throw in the water, then you see something else that's even worse."

Vreeland of Trout Hollow Lodge is particularly concerned about being a good steward of water quality, especially since water quality seems to have declined in recent months.

"We've been here since 2003, and with these recent floods, the water used to be substantially cleaner than this," he said. "When we pull our boats out of the water they're coated in some kind of brown product. We hope it will clear up over time to what it was in past years."

He added that the trout don't seem to have been affected, though fish often take a long time to show effects from changes in water quality.

Indirect effect

Along with the direct impact on companies such as Patton's, Moore said the partnership could have indirect positive effects on the business community as a whole.

"By having the states working together to address regulatory issues, there would be consistency in standards and regulatory issues between the two states," Moore said. "Second, it could be beneficial indirectly because by talking and working together, we minimize the potential for disagreements or litigation, and a climate where there isn't a lot of litigation and people are doing business is a plus."

Missouri Department of Natural Resources agrees that cleaner water will benefit businesses in both states, despite any potential cost increases tied to more stringent water standards.

The two states will likely look at issues such as projected population growth and its impact on water demand and the maximum pollution amounts that could go into waterways and still meet safety standards.

"In general, better water quality in the Ozarks and a better understanding of and increased availability of water quantity are bedrocks of the economic engines that drive that area," said Kerry Cordray, DNR spokesman. He noted that improved quality of life will attract businesses.

"The lakes benefit, the streams benefit from greater understanding of the resource and a cooperative approach to keeping those resources lively and available and clean," he added.

Moore added that even if standards are tightened as a result of the partnership, the effect will likely be felt less on the Missouri side of the border.

"What we might see is a tightening of some effluence standards, making them consistent for people on both sides of the line," he said. "Missouri has generally had a little bit tighter standards, so there might be more impact on the Arkansas side."

For example, Missouri and Arkansas both limit fecal coliform bacteria to 400 parts per 100 mL during the peak effluence season, but the two states define peak season differently; Missouri's peak season last April through October, while Arkansas' season lasts only May through September.

Regardless of what comes from the agreement, dock owner Patton said any improvement would help - both for lakeside businesses and residents who want to enjoy the natural resources available in the area.

"A farmer makes his living on the field, and he's not going to do anything to mess up his field," Patton said. "Anything we do in our business, we try to make sure we're good stewards of the resources that we have. We try to take the time to make sure we clean up whenever we can and make sure our business practices are those of a good neighbor on the lake."