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Phosphorus, growth top list of '98 environmental issues

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by Michele Skalicky

SBJ Contributing Writer

Less phosphorous will be flowing into Table Rock Lake in 1998, businesses that handle hazardous materials will be working on risk management plans, more greenways will be winding through the Springfield area and water quality experts will be testing ways to keep growth from harming drinking water. Also, air quality will get some attention, along with energy use and the city's environmental services.

Water quality will continue to be an important issue, especially as growth in Springfield takes off in different directions. Focus group members, determining where growth in the city should go as part of the city's comprehensive plan "Vision 20/20," recommended shifting growth to the north and the east, said Loring Bullard, director of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks (WCO). "That basically puts growth into our drinking watersheds," he said.

Pearson Creek in east Springfield flows into the James River upstream from where the city pulls out a portion of its drinking water. A part of the South Dry Sac, north of Springfield, flows underground and pops up at Fulbright Springs, from which the city gets 15 percent to 20 percent of its drinking water, Bullard said, "so it's a very sensitive area."

WCO knows economic development is needed, but it will be looking for a balance between growth and a healthy drinking-water supply in 1998, according to Bullard. Non-point-source pollution, such as parking lot and lawn runoff, soil erosion and septic tanks, can harm the water supply in developed areas.

The Watershed Committee plans several projects to address those problems. For one thing, it will continue to use monitoring techniques to determine where the area's water comes from and where the sensitive areas are.

1998 could see wet ponds replacing stormwater detention basins to catch runoff. "The standard detention basins we build are basically just to control flooding and don't do a lot for water quality," Bullard said.

Water that flows into wet ponds remains for long periods of time, allowing any pollutants to settle out before the runoff seeps into the ground.

Grassy areas around parking lots might replace concrete culverts to catch stormwater runoff. Pollutants would be filtered out before they had a chance to get into the groundwater.

Corporate farms, which have contributed to water pollution in the past, are expected to be a key issue in 1998. Greene County will be working with the Missouri legislature next year on agricultural activities, said presiding Commissioner Dave Coonrod.

The county is concerned about corporate farmers who use traditional agricultural exemptions to get around minimum pollution prevention standards, he said. "On the state level, we are seeking a better definition of what agriculture is."

Greene County will continue its award-winning Groundwater Guardian program and Adopt-A-Spring program, which will use volunteers to monitor the quality of 20 area springs next year.

An important ongoing environmental issue that will continue to get attention in 1998 is connecting older subdivisions to live sewer service.

Only about 18 subdivisions in proximity to the urbanized area of Springfield remain on septic tanks, Coonrod said, adding that it's important to get those houses off the tanks, which can present health hazards if not working properly.

A new geographic information system, which contains land-use data from the area (spring and sinkhole locations, soils data, etc.) will be coming online in 1998. It will allow county Planning and Zoning to "do a better job in tailoring a given land use to what its site characteristics can handle," Coonrod said.

Phosphorous will be taken out of Springfield's wastewater next year. Pilot and demonstration phosphorous removal projects at Springfield's Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant are expected to be completed by September 1998, said Bob Schaefer, the city's assistant director of Public Works.

The demonstration project, which is expected to remove 90 percent of phosphorous in the wastewater, is designed to allow the city to weigh its various options. However, the pilot project will be only a small model.

Parts of the demonstration project will be permanent, but the temporary portions would have a life of only five years. After that, the city might ask voters to approve a bond issue to pay for a permanent phosphorous removal system.

Too much phosphorous in a waterway can lead to fish kills and bad-tasting drinking water, Schaefer said.

The city of Springfield will continue working next year to make environmental services (such as the recycling drop-off sites) self-sustainable, said Barbara Lucks, the city's materials recovery education coordinator.

Two new pieces of equipment, expected to arrive in spring or summer next year, will bring the city an additional source of revenue for environmental services. A trommel screen will allow the city to manufacture supergrade compost, which will be sold to the public. A new tub grinder will mean the city no longer will have to contract out the grinding of limbs and brush into woodchips, resulting in cost savings.

The Springfield/Greene County Health Department will be implementing revised ozone and particulate matter standards through next year, said Karl Barke, the department's coordinator of air quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency made the revisions in 1997. "They've revised the standards downward, so there will be less margin for error," Barke said.

The changes mean the department will have to establish a new network of monitoring equipment, Barke said.

Area businesses that have hazardous material on-site will have to create risk management plans by June 21, 1999, under the Clean Water Act, said Greene County Emergency Management director Joye McElwee.

"A lot of variables (such as what kind of chemicals a company has) come into play as to which program under the risk management plan they're going to have to comply with," McElwee said. The plans will state worst-case scenarios and will be made available to the public.

Marie Steinwachs, director of the University Extension's office of waste management, predicted 1998 will see an increased interest in energy-efficient homes, especially as utility companies move closer to deregulation.

Steinwachs said she believes deregulation will result in higher utility rates, and that might result in the building of more energy-efficient houses.

Area residents will have more places to enjoy the outdoors next year as Ozark Greenways expands its trails. The organization's executive director, Terry Whaley, said construction of the first 10 miles of the Frisco-Highline trail from Willard to Walnut Grove will be completed in 1998, and work will be done on the Galloway trail, which will run north out of Sequiota Park to Battlefield Road.

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