Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Christine Temple sits down with Tiffany Frey, The James River Basin Partnership’s executive director; Errin Kemper, the city of Springfield’s Environmental Services director; Mike Kromrey, Watershed Committee of the Ozarks Inc.’s executive director; and Bob Pavlowsky, Missouri State University Ozarks Environmental and Water Resources Institute’s director to discuss water quality in the Ozarks.
Christine Temple: In one word, how would you characterize the water quality industry?
Mike Kromrey: Stewardship.
Errin Kemper: You just stole mine – stewardship.
Tiffany Frey: Critical.
Bob Pavlowsky: Busy.
Temple: What are the benefits to keeping our water clean?
Kromrey: Keeping it clean and available for society is a goal. If you look around the world at the places where water quality is the poorest, so are the countries.
Frey: Nothing survives without water. Water is critical to everything, including economic backbone.
Kromrey: Dirty water is really expensive. It’s expensive to treat and deliver as drinking water. It’s expensive to clean up spills. On the flip side, clean water, especially clean sources of drinking water, are an incredible investment for communities, for economies.
Kemper: There is the water quality as it impacts individual quality of life: drinking water supplies, your ability to swim in a creek, your ability to fish in a creek. But then there are all the larger, bigger picture aspects of community water quality. It goes beyond just human health and quality of life. It goes into jobs and salaries, all the way down to what public funds are available to address public needs.
Temple: In many of your organizations, education about how to maintain water quality is key. What should people know about our water systems and about the importance of water quality?
Kromrey: People need to know about their sources of water. The basics. How karst systems work; that we have groundwater that is easily polluted; and that surface water is the main source of water for Springfield. Some basics about our water supply and our rivers and lakes and streams. And then people need to know also that they have a direct impact on the quality of that water. And that it takes everyone’s actions to keep it clean for the future.
Frey: They need to understand their own connection to water in order to be open to information.
Temple: How does water quality impact economic development in the Ozarks?
Pavlowsky: Clean water means that we are working in a sustainable way. We are taking care of resources for both society and for industry. You know the old bumper sticker: “We all live downstream.”
Kromrey: Think about some of the flagship industries of our area. Do you think Bass Pro Shops is connected to clean water? Wonders of Wildlife Museum? Absolutely. Ozarks Coca-Cola? You know, absolutely. Our lakes down in Branson? You don’t have to look very far or very deep to see the connections to water resources in our economy.
Kemper: It’s one of the first questions we asked as we went down the road of integrated planning. The city of Springfield has been working with Greene County and City Utilities on an integrated plan for the environment, and one component of that plan is to look at any of the solutions towards water quality to make sure we are getting a good return on investment. One way to tell is to find out what kind of monetary value there is in water quality improvement. We were one of five communities in the country that were awarded a grant from the (Environmental Protection Agency) to do integrated planning. As part of that grant, they combined all of the research on the value of water quality. A lot of what we do in the water quality world provides benefits financially in a lot of different arenas.
Temple: Can we quantify the amount of water that we have in the Ozarks?
Pavlowsky: It’s a lot.
Frey: And it changes. You know, is it locked in the ground? Are we in a drought period? It’s different depending upon the time of year.
Pavlowsky: Our awareness of water as a community or as a region always peaks during the extremes. Oh, we’re having a drought, everyone starts thinking about water. Oh, big floods, too much water. But then everyone gets back into their lives and then we move on.
Kromrey: City Utilities is the one with their eyes keenly focused on that as far as supplying water to their customers. Municipalities are probably the same. It’s an important question because you wouldn’t leave your driveway without knowing how much gas is in your tank. There is that question with ground water. It is really hard to see, so it’s kind of hard to measure. That is something I think we actually need to improve upon.
Frey: If your water resources deplete, then your economy can’t grow.
Pavlowsky: A lot of times when we are in the lake or somewhere else, it seems like we could never run out of water, but remember, southwest Missouri as it is appeals to a lot of people, and so over time things are shifting. You have more of your people moving in and we need more water. Luckily, at least from what I’ve heard, we are doing a better job of conserving water as we go.
Kemper: The perceived value of water is proportional to its scarcity.
Temple: What are your opinions on daylighting Jordan Creek, and what would be the benefits for the community?
Pavlowsky: You start to allow your water system to behave more like a natural system and reduce flood problems and allow animals and fish and microbes to run. It becomes a real hub of the community.
Kromrey: Our community was born on Jordan Creek. John Polk Campbell was the one credited with starting our community. He was brought here by Indians from the Delaware Town Camp and he carved his initials on those trees around a natural well around a spring on the bank of Jordan Creek. It is so core to our community’s history and identity. I have always found it sort of ironic the way that it is entombed in concrete. Just from an emotional perspective and a historical perspective, I think it is imperative that we unleash at least some of it.
Kemper: The Jordan Creek Corps of Engineers’ feasibility study was my pet project for a decade working for the city of Springfield. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers out of Little Rock came in here and did a 10-year feasibility study, and we studied every aspect of the Jordan Valley from a purely technical engineering type approach. This is 15 years of maybe the most comprehensive study that has ever been done in the city of Springfield. All it really needs is that last ingredient, and that’s the stakeholders involved to make it happen financially.
Projects and priorities
Temple: What are the current projects and priorities for your organizations?
Frey: Nutrients is the biggest priority. One priority in our conversation is to keep more of the water on our properties. Anytime we send water racing across our parking lots and streets, it’s picking up various pollutants in its path, whether it’s fertilizers, pesticides, waste, whatever it is, and it’s taking it to the lowest portion of the land, which is going to be our waterways.
Kemper: We have a responsibility to our community to protect them against pollution. But we also have an obligation to our individual ratepayers and our citizens as a whole to make sure that we’re providing them with wastewater service at an affordable price. If you’re a big industry and looking at places to relocate, and Springfield has sewer rates that are 25 percent of St. Louis or Kansas City, it makes that really attractive from an economic development standpoint.
Kromrey: We should brag on our community and the leadership in the city on that regard. We’re proactive here. It’s our ethic. That pays. There was a recent consent degree, so the EPA and (Department of Natural Resources) say you have to meet these standards and Kansas City was slapped with a …
Kemper: A little over $4.5 billion consent judgment.
Kromrey: St. Louis was slapped with a …
Kemper: About the same.
Kromrey: St. Joseph was slapped with a …
Kemper: Less than that, but more than us.
Kromrey: But Springfield only had to pay?
Kemper: Two hundred million over 10 years through a phased approach to our overflow control plan. Years from now, when Springfield citizens are paying 30-something a month for a residential sewer bill, citizens in Kansas City and St. Louis will be paying north of $100 a month for wastewater.
Cause and effect
Temple: How have nutrient pollution and algae blooms on waterways impacted our community and tourism, and what are you doing to prevent these problems?
Frey: The story of James River Basin Partnership kind of goes back to a very well-known algae bloom that happened in Table Rock Lake. This was one of those moments that really got people’s economic attention because all the marinas down Table Rock on the James River arm realized that without clean water, they don’t have a job.
Kromrey: If there’s a beach closure due to E. coli at Lake of the Ozarks, that’s like millions of bucks out of their economy in the tourism season. In Republic, Missouri, there’s some TCE, a contaminant in the groundwater. It was a few drums of that chemical that were kicked over because somebody didn’t want to pay to get rid of them, and they have been in a multimillion-dollar, multiyear project to reduce the levels of (trichloroethylene) in their groundwaters. Ben Franklin said an ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure.
Kemper: A couple of summers ago there was an algae bloom, and the water looked like chocolate milk. There were a couple people out in the water on kayaks that probably didn’t really realize what was going on, but there were probably dozens more that drove by and saw the water and went, “Hmm, I’m not going to put my kayak out today. That’s gross.”
Temple: What are the threats facing water quality today and looking to the future?
Frey: I see plastics emerging as one of the big issues. “Microplastics” are found in beer, they’re found in bottled water, they’re found all over our environment, they’re found in animals. I don’t know if they can literally find them in our bodies, but probably. When you drive down, let’s say, Kansas Expressway after a flood, all you see is plastic bags strung along the side of the road. Just like it’s growing flowers – plastic flowers. It’s very disturbing to me. The best thing we can do is to understand that every action we have directly impacts our water resources.
Kromrey: Apathy. How do you protect water without a crisis? It is super easy to forget about, and yet it takes constant community effort and partnership and individual action to keep us headed in the right direction.
Kemper: Two hundred years ago, wherever you were in the world, your No. 1 priority was your water. It was where you built your house. It was where you settled. It was what you thought about when you got up in the morning because you probably had to walk somewhere to go get it. We’ve developed as a society to this point where water may be the last thing we think about.
Frey: We have so many things pulling us in so many different directions. We don’t tend to slow down. The more distracted we get, the more apathetic we get because we don’t see the big picture.
Kemper: For a quarter of the price of what I pay for broadband internet connection, I get clean potable water delivered to my house 24/7. And it is also taken from my house and cleaned before it gets put in the stream.
Frey: It’s miraculous.
Temple: What’s your favorite way to enjoy water?
Kromrey: Fishing. The James River.
Kemper: Swimming. I like to find a nice tall rock over a big ol’ deep hole and jump. I’m kind of partial to the North Fork.
Frey: I love to sail. I sail at Stockton because it’s close, but I’ll sail anywhere.
Pavlowsky: Swimming and fishing, but also exploring a lot.
Excerpts by Features Editor Christine Temple, email@example.com.
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