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MIDKIFF: Fuel tanks threaten a pristine Missouri river

"It is much easier to prevent pollution than to clean it up."

By Ken Midkiff

COLUMBIA, Mo 3/19/14 (Op Ed) -- Near the Willow Springs, Missouri headwaters of the Eleven Point River -- an Ozark National Scenic River, a National Wild and Scenic River, and a favorite float stream -- Coastal Energy has a tank farm.

Tanks containing ethanol, bio-diesel, and asphalt emulsion are located on the banks within 10 feet of the river.  Worse yet, of the 33 tanks at the site, only 12 have moats that -- like a moat around a dragon's castle -- keep bad things contained. If any of the 21 tanks without moats leak or spill, contaminants will flow onto the ground and into the river.

Many Columbia residents canoe and fish the Eleven Point River. If it becomes fouled with ethanol, bio-diesel, or asphalt, canoeing would become, at the very least, smelly.  The fish would go belly-up.  And at the very worst, a disaster akin to the recent storage tank leaks in West Virginia could occur.

No more than a trickle at its headwaters, the Eleven Point becomes a large stream after tributaries and Greer's Spring join it. But it also becomes a so-called "losing stream":  in places, the Eleven Point loses more than 30% of its flow to unknown locations which may include wells and aquifers tapped by humans.  

Dye tracing shows some of the water may end up in springs along the Current and Jacks Fork rivers, more than 30 miles to the east.  Concern about the eventual whereabouts of this lost water affords losing streams much higher environmental protection than normally-flowing waters.
 

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By now, you should be wondering why a favorite float stream with so many official designations that accord it the highest levels of environmental protection has a big tank farm on its banks. 

Though it should be anathema to allow much of anything to occur near the Eleven Point, its watershed, and its floodplain, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) has permitted these tanks.  More unbelievably yet, neither the tanks nor the site have been inspected by the Environmental Protection Agency (though EPA assures Coastal Energy's tank farm is "on the list" of future inspections).

We river rats are aware of National Park Service (NPS) proposals to update management of Ozark National Scenic Rivers. Many Columbians have commented on this plan, which offers doing nothing (Alternative C) to severely restricting playground-type activities (Alternative A).

Folks down in Eminence and Van Buren, Missouri; US Rep. Jason Smith; and Missouri Lt. Governor Peter Kinder want NPS to do-nothing.  Conservatives support doing away with playground activities -- riding ATVs and jet boats, getting drunk and naked -- at the Current and Jacks Fork rivers.  Governor Jay Nixon, playing it safe, prefers Alternative B -- adding some river use restrictions -- much better than C and much worse than A. 

In other words, quite a political fuss is being raised about how to care for (some of) Missouri's National Scenic Rivers. At the very least, then, MoDNR should re-examine Coastal Energy's tank farm permits along the Eleven Point, and EPA should immediately inspect.

As anyone at EPA would say, "It is much easier to prevent pollution than to clean it up."  And it's much more popular -- politically, socially, and in every other way I can think of -- to do away with pollutants than playgrounds.


 

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