State lawmakers plan to review the action of the Department of Natural Resources, accused of withholding information that numerous sites at the Lake of the Ozarks were contaminated with E. coli.
DNR officials stand accused of holding the information for four weeks and of ignoring a Sunshine Law request to release it. Several samples at the Lake of the Ozarks taken on May 26th disclosed elevated levels of E. coli. They were ready for release on May 29th.
Sen. Brad Lager (R-Savannah) says it’s unacceptable to withhold information from the public, because you believe it might hurt tourism.
"For me what this is really about is making sure that we have integrity and public trust in Department of Natural Resources," Lager tells the Missourinet.
Lager chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and the Environment. He plans to call the committee next week and discuss a review of DNR’s actions; a review, not an investigation. Lager insists this will not turn into a Republican legislative body investigating a Democratic administration.
"This will not become a political witch-hunt," Lager says. "This review will be done so with the higher level of integrity. I am committed to making sure that we are all statesmen and that we do what is in the best interest of our taxpayers, of the citizens of this state and of our visitors who are here to enjoy our lakes."
Lager says he wants to get a better understanding of what occurred and why it took so long to get results released to the public. Lager says he won’t rush the process and has no time line in mind.
DNR has released a couple of statements on the samplings taken at the Lake of the Ozarks. DNR Director Mark Templeton released this initial statement.
"The first round of Lake of the Ozarks water quality study results for 2009 found elevated levels of E. coli at several locations. Heavy rainfall the day before some of the sampling and early the morning of some of the sampling may have contributed to the higher levels, as subsequent monitoring had a lower number of elevated readings. The 2009 sampling consists of over 100 sites along the Niangua arm, Linn Creek, and Hurricane Deck. Beginning in May and alternating each month through October, half of the sites will be tested each month during the six-month period."
DNR reports that 29 of the 55 sites that were sampled on May 26 found E. coli levels above the EPA’s recommended single sample maximum level of 235 colonies per 100 milliliters. Five of the 59 sites that were sampled on June 22 had elevated results, but were below the EPA recommended single sample maximum level. DNR says that heavy rainfall on May 26th might have contributed to the higher levels of E. coli by carrying waste found in the soil from septic tanks or sewer systems, perhaps even heavy concentrations of water fowl, animal waste or manure. DNR promised further investigations and stated it would take any action necessary.
DNR says it is in the third of a five-year study to establish a baseline at the Lake of the Ozarks by which to determine the overall health of the lake. The water samples are expected to include coves from Bagnell Dam to Truman Dam. The study is a cooperative effort led by the Department of Natural Resources and includes the Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance, which provides trained volunteers to collect the water samples, Ameren UE, which pays $15,000 per year for the five-year study, and the Department of Conservation.
On July 16th, Templeton released another statement. In it, Templeton said that one-half of one round of sampling indicated elevated levels of E. coli bacteria in some coves.
"Due to concerns that recent rainfall had elevated bacteria levels, the Department of Natural Resources sought recent and historical rainfall data before releasing the results of the May sampling. That information indicated that elevated levels were directly correlated with rainfall that occurred immediately prior to the May sampling, and that historical instances of elevated sampling results have been correlated with periods of significant rainfall. Nevertheless, the Department of Natural Resources should have released results from the May sampling more quickly," Templeton said in the statement released by DNR.
The Attorney General’s office is reviewing whether DNR violated the state Sunshine Law by refusing requests for the tests results filed June 8th by the Ozarks Watershed Alliance and multiple requests made by Camdenton newspaper, the Lake Sun Leader.
"The legislature’s intent is very clear. Open government is in the best interest of Missouri, never more so than when concerns over public health are at issue," Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement released by his office.