Environmental Law Blog
Protecting Lake Taneycomo and the White River
Last week, the Attorney General's Office sued a developer for allowing untreated sewage to discharge into a tributary of Lake Taneycomo, in violation of the Missouri Clean Water Law. Lake Taneycomo is famous across the country for its abundant rainbow and brown trout populations and is located in the Branson area. Since 2002, the Attorney General's Office has prioritized cases involving water pollution in the White River Watershed through its "Zero Tolerance Initiative."
In May 2008, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources discovered that the wastewater treatment facility serving the Damsite Subdivision was discharging untreated sewage to a tributary of Lake Taneycomo. An earlier inspection last November determined that the facility was discharging untreated sewage to the ground. The Department brought the case to the Attorney General's Office last week, and the Office moved swiftly, showing zero tolerance for pollution of the White River.
The lawsuit, filed in Taney County Circuit Court, asks the court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction that would require the Damsite Improvement Association, which owns and operates the wastewater treatment facility serving the Damsite Subdivision, to:
(1) Immediately contain and store the sewage generated by the wastewater system in a tank or other similar device;
(2) Empty the tank as necessary to prevent overflows or discharges;
(3) Convey the sewage to an appropriately permitted wastewater treatment facility for treatment and lawful discharge; and
(4) Continue this process until the current wastewater treatment facility can be upgraded and made fully operational or alternative sewage treatment service can be provided.
Under the Missouri Clean Water Law, untreated sewage qualifies as both a water contaminant and a pollutant. And, a wastewater treatment facility is a point source, or a source of direct pollution into the waters of the State. Thus, each owner and operator of a wastewater treatment facility in Missouri must obtain a Missouri State Operating Permit before s/he can legally operate the facility.
Missouri State Operating Permits are the regulatory equivalents of National Pollution Discharge Elimination System Permits under the federal Clean Water Act. Both permits set the limits for allowable water pollution into the waters of the State. Point sources cannot pollute in excess of the limits set in their Permits, or they are deemed in violation of the Missouri Clean Water Law.
Permits also impose reporting requirements on owners and operators of point sources, like wastewater treatment facilities. For example, owners and operators of wastewater treatment facilities are required to monitor treated wastewater that is discharged into the waters of the State and then report the monitoring results to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. If the reports indicate that the facility has exceeded its allowable pollution limits, then the facility must correct the violation or be sued by the Attorney General's Office.
In the Lake Taneycomo incident, the owners of the wastewater treatment facility failed to meet the pollution limits set by its Missouri State Operating Permit. Recognizing the threat to Missouri's natural resources, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Attorney General's Office took immediate action to eliminate that threat.
The Zero Tolerance Initiative is an example of sector-based enforcement where one targets a particular region or type of pollution for closer scrutiny for an important reason. Here, we are protecting the White River area which is an important tourism draw that depends on clean water. Do you have any ideas that could help the AGO further prioritize its enforcement efforts statewide?
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