Rampant development, rising pollution

by Ken Midkiff

COLUMBIA, Mo 7/12/16 (Op Ed) -- The water quality in Columbia's Flat Branch of the Hinkson Creek is already poor.   And it will likely get worse. 

A new sewer, paid for by tax- and rate-payers, will cross Flat Branch several times so inhabitants of downtown luxury student apartments can shower, wash dishes, and flush toilets.   

Though city government claims everyone benefits from this new sewer, the massive development of new student apartments that prompted the sewer construction primarily benefits developers and investors.   

Student renters have seen their rent and living expenses soar in recent years, so the only economic benefit they receive is housing closer to campus. 

The rest of us get higher costs -- and more pollution, especially in our prized creeks and streams, which now channel more contaminated runoff -- from roofs, sidewalks, asphalt, and other impermeable surfaces -- than ever before. 

Eighteen years ago, I was a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club and American Canoe Association against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failure to conduct a required Total Daily Maximum Load (TMDL) on Hinkson Creek.   

We won the case, and in 2011 – after considerable delay, two controversial moves by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and an extension – EPA issued the TMDL.

It called for the City of Columbia, the County of Boone, and the University of Missouri to reduce stormwater by 39.6%, noting that stormwater runoff carried pollutants that harmed or killed aquatic life.   

Despite the EPA's ruling, City Hall has approved and encouraged rampant development without regard to added runoff from all the new impermeable surfaces.  

Rather than reducing runoff, the City has aided and abetted much more.

Today, Hinkson Creek pollution, below the entrance of Flat Branch, is getting worse.   When the TMDL was first issued in 2011, the Stream Index – based on data collected by volunteers who have the same credibility as EPA and DNR water quality staffers – was a poor 16

Now, it's an even worse 13 (the higher the number, the better).  

The Flat Branch Stream Index stands even lower, at 4 (extremely bad).  
The pro-development community likes to carp about some fictitious "anti-growth" crowd that wants to halt progress and turn back the clock to some time in Columbia's past.   

But dirty creeks polluted with runoff contaminants harken back to the days of shotgun shacks and open sewers in downtown Columbia, so who is it, really, causing our city to move backwards?  

Retired Columbia public works superintendent and Mayor's Infrastructure Task Force member Bill Weitkemper writes:

"I have been concerned about the adverse impact to the environment that results from many construction projects that I felt could be avoided or minimized through better, more careful design and construction practices

"I have been planning to request that the Mayors Task Force on Infrastructure include in its report to the City Council the recommendation that the city adopt “environmental” construction practices that could improve air and water quality, reduce stormwater runoff, decrease air and noise pollution, prevent soil erosion and sedimentation, mitigate heat and glare, increase land values and provide habitat for urban wildlife

"I believe the city should assure that construction projects preserve the environment as much as possible rather than worrying about how to restore the environment after it has been damaged or destroyed."