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Perhaps you didn’t realize that every stream and river in the country supports healthy aquatic life and is safe for recreation in and on the water. The reason I know our streams are unpolluted is that the Clean Water Act mandated that states would achieve that goal by 1983. We’re 26 years–count ’em t-w-e-n-t-y–s-i-x years–beyond the due date for this particular baby. Surely it couldn’t still be gestating.

Heh. Picture a Jon Stewart deadpan at this point in my logic. Because our streams aren’t all clean and you damn well know it.

The Missouri Clean Water Commission and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources have skillfully tap danced around the EPA mandate. For example:

It’s almost cute how the DNR gets around the law that says all our streams should be clean: some streams, like the Current River and the Big Piney, are “classified” and others, like the River Des Peres in St. Louis (pictured at left), are “unclassified”. The classified streams have to meet the standards of the Clean Water Act, but an unclassified stream can be toxic enough to dispatch a T Rex with a single sip. What’s in those streams is irrelevant because we choose not to pay attention to them, says the DNR. Nifty solution, huh?

That’s a–to use a tautology–straightforward dodge. But the MDNR and MCWC also know how to twist your brain matter into a pretzel. Try following their tortured logic on the “where attainable” issue:

The Clean Water Act–section 101–requires that ALL waters in the U.S. be healthy enough that you could dunk your whole body in any of them and suffer no ill consequences. It’s referred to as Whole Body Contact or WBC. The Act says this must be accomplished “where attainable.” Oh, those two little words.

A couple of years ago, the Coalition for the Environment won a lawsuit requiring the DNR and CWC to designate all waters in the state as places where they would achieve water clean enough for “whole body contact”.

As a result, all the classified streams are on the “Whole Body Contact” list, but in some places, the DNR decided, that was not “attainable” because the streams were too shallow for anybody to get his whole body into it. Ergo, if they were too shallow for WBC, clean water was not necessary. And unless a stream had one or more pools at least a meter deep–as measured in mid-August of a drought year, no doubt–then it was “too shallow” for whole body contact.

Excuse me. You might need 39.4 inches of water for John Goodman to get his whole body wet, but a five year old can and probably will do it if he’s got six inches.

So municipal wastewater treatment plants get to continue saving millions of dollars by dumping their shit into our small streams. And  interestingly, anybody can do a Use Attainability Analysis to determine whether a stream is too shallow to be designated WBC. Indeed, many sewage treatment facilities have done their own UAAs and concluded that the water where they discharge sewage was too shallow to matter.

Enough already, the Missouri Sierra Club decided, and it has sent a Petition for Agency Action on this issue to the EPA, Area 7. The petition has been bucked up the line to EPA headquarters in D.C. The unofficial word is that scientists there agree that the one meter standard is too deep but that positive action would be more likely (by a few magnitudes probably!) if it were delayed for a few months. (You know what’s been happening at the EPA for eight years now. Figure it out.) And the Sierra Club urged the EPA people to take their time and do a good job.