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Growth, development affect water quality

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

A report by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources states that the White River Basin, which includes Springfield, has some of the the finest water in Missouri.

However, the report goes on to say that rapid growth in Springfield and Branson has caused potential water-quality problems.

The problems include increased wastewater flows; construction site erosion, resulting in cloudiness and sediment in lakes and streams; potential shortages in groundwater due to large withdrawals; and increased utilization of septic tanks.

Loring Bullard, director of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks, said there are practices designed to protect this valuable natural resource. The committee stands ready to help educate businesses and individuals on the steps to ensure that area water is safe to drink, now and in the future.

What many people fail to stop and think about is that groundwater runoff always ends up back in the water supply, and simple things such as fertilizing the lawn or dumping used engine oil can dramatically impact the local ecosystem, Bullard said.

Homeowners should test to see if fertilization is necessary instead of routinely spreading fertilizer on their yards each spring, he said.

Something as simple as washing the car on the lawn, where run-off seeps back into the soil for cleansing, instead of using the driveway, where the water goes down the drive and the street to the storm drain and ultimately back into the water supply, can be a benefit.

People sometimes confuse storm drains with sewers, Bullard said. Storm drains are designed to collect water from impervious areas rooftops, streets, driveways, parking lots and carry it back to the local lakes and streams.

The more contaminants the water picks up along the way, the more polluted the water supply becomes, Bullard said.

In rural areas, septic systems have been a concern for several years.

Responding to the problem, counties have tightened regulations, but it is ultimately up to the land owner to take the initiative to make sure his or her system is functioning properly. Systems should be installed properly and checked annually, Bullard said.

Greene County, City Utilities and the city of Springfield jointly fund the Watershed Committee in an effort to educate the public and industry in ways to reduce pollution, and maintain or even improve the local environment.

Developers in this area have already made an impact through their use of green space on projects like Bradford Park and Chesterfield Village, where the grassy buffers and landscaped ponds provide natural filters for runoff.

Preservation steps can also be taken at construction sites with the use of water barriers and wet detention basins to slow the runoff and help clean up pollutants before they reach the water supply.

The Watershed Committee has a library on the subject of waterways and factors affecting the regional water supply, and the committee will set up educational sessions with businesses and their employees on request.

"The solution to potential problems is in awareness," Bullard said.

Springfield's primary water supply sources include deep wells, Fulbright Spring, James River, and McDaniel and Fellows lakes.

The Watershed Committee obtained a grant in 1992 to demonstrate effective ways of controlling polluted runoff from cattle operations and septic tanks within these reservoirs' watersheds.

Fulbright Spring, a city water source since the 1880s, provides about 15 percent to 20 percent of the city's water supply. Development in the northeast part of the city and county are closely monitored because of the potential adverse effect it could have on this valuable resource.

The city and county rely on the Watershed Committee to review proposed developments and make recommendations. Although the committee is not a regulatory entity, the practices recommended are a result of careful study and can have a positive impact on the community as well as regional health and well-being as a whole, Bullard said.

Though the quality of the water supply in this area is still good, urban development can have an adverse effect. The key to the problem is prevention, according to Bullard.

"As the city develops it becomes even more important to use better management practices," he said.

The James River Basin Partnership is another advisory committee, formed in the last two years, that monitors Webster, Greene, Christian, Barry and Stone counties, according to Director Pamela Anderson.

The partnership studies the impact of point-source water hazards, such as the Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant, and non-point-source pollutants, such as pesticides. Rapid development is one of the problems affecting the water supply in this area, Anderson said.

"Sometimes people in development don't use good practices," she said, but others have chosen to be part of the solution. With people in the construction field joining the effort, the partnership hopes to get developers to use safeguards on building projects to protect the environment.

"They get the message from their peers," Anderson said.

The partnership is also putting together a children's program to to educate at the elementary school level. Dubbed "Clean Water Kids," the program will begin this fall.

(See related story on page 26.)

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