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SBJ photo by EMILY LETTERMAN
SBJ photo by EMILY LETTERMAN

A Conversation With … Mike Kromrey on Ozarks’ water

Posted online
What is the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks?
We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and our mission guides everything we do: To sustain and improve the water resources of Springfield and Greene County through education and effective management of our region’s watersheds. Simplified, our mission is to keep the water clean.

How is the Watershed Committee funded?
As a nonprofit, we have the extreme benefit of the city, county and City Utilities investing in us. Since we were formed in 1984, they have provided our operating budget, which we then leverage by applying for grants, through partnerships and fundraising efforts. Just in the last five years, for every dollar they have provided, we’ve returned $10-$15 dollars simply in grant money. Another important aspect of that is we help the city and the county meet their federally mandated water requirements.

What’s the education piece?
Most are with kids, but yesterday illustrates a good example of our professional education. We had a group of engineers out to learn about threats to our drinking water and best-management practices. We have resources available for businesses, too. We have a dynamic lunch-and-learn session. We also do Jordan Creek tours for businesses or civic groups. That’s a fascinating way to learn about water quality in our city, but also the history of our city and social problems. It’s all intertwined in the tunnels beneath our city.

Are you working to help daylight Jordan Creek?
There has been a redirective on how (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) funding needs to be spent. Basically, the city needs to spend a bunch of money on shovel-ready projects very quickly. Jordan Creek daylighting, at least part of it, is one of the top projects on the list. Many community leaders really got excited about daylighting after the Greenville, South Carolina, visit. It was a keystone to that city. They resurrected their urban stream, and now it’s the pride and heart of that city. Water is vital to our economy. It is the lifeblood.

How is water the lifeblood of an economy?
The tourism – that is a huge industry in the Ozarks. People go to Taneycomo, Branson and on float trips and to Stockton Lake. They come here because of our beautiful rivers and lakes. Clean water in our environment is a huge economic engine. You can see the opposite when Lake of the Ozarks had that E. coli scare for example. They lost millions of dollars. Even the rumor of polluted water can send shockwaves through the economy.

You helped craft the city’s Field Guide 2030. Where are we headed?
There are a lot of big things on the horizon we need to be aware of: population growth and additional water supply for southwest Missouri being the biggest. Funding for stormwater and things that help keep our water clean is another continual challenge. Infrastructure across the United States is very underfunded. Even in Springfield for our stormwater and sewer infrastructure, we aspire to fund a 200-year replacement cycle – or more. I think we are trying to get it up to 150 years. That tells you we’re still, unfortunately, operating in crisis mode in some cases. The life expectancy is not 200 years, it’s 70-100 years, if you are lucky.

Mike Kromrey is executive director of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks. He can be reached at mike@watershedcommittee.org.

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