Great Rivers Environmental Law Center and Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper have issued two notices of intent to sue under the Clean Water Act’s citizen suit provision. The Act allows citizens impacted by water pollution to sue those responsible to stop the pollution. These lawsuits will be filed in federal court 60 days after the notices are served on the City of Eminence and St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) if the violations are not corrected within this time by the sewer utilities or governmental agencies.

The first of these notices was sent to the City of Eminence for violations that are creating dangerous algal blooms in the Jacks Fork River, one of the crown jewels of Missouri’s Ozarks. The Jacks Fork River is spring fed and is designated as an Outstanding National Resource Water.  Eminence’s wastewater treatment plant has been discharging nutrient-laden wastewater directly into the Jacks Fork since September of last year, causing unsightly algal blooms that harm not only the aesthetic qualities of the river but decrease the amount of oxygen available in it, choking out aquatic life and violating Missouri’s water quality standards and the City’s wastewater permit. While Eminence’s discharges have turned this portion of the Jacks Fork into a soupy algal mess, other portions of the river have remained crystal clear, leaving little question as to the source of the pollution.

“When you see a single area of a lake, river, or stream that is suffering from this kind of very noticeable, very unsightly pollution, it’s a red flag that someone is probably breaking the law,” said Rachel Bartels, Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper’s executive director. “It’s especially concerning in a river that has been recognized and protected as a beautiful natural asset for such a long time. You just shouldn’t be seeing pollution like this in a river as precious as the Jacks Fork.”

The second notice was sent to St. Louis’ Metropolitan Sewer District for violations at their Bissell Point facility on the Mississippi River. Since at least the summer of 2022, Bissell Point has been consistently discharging a malodorous, soapy substance from its pipes leading into the Mississippi. On many days, the soap scum flows downriver for nearly a quarter of a mile. The odor is so strong it can be frequently smelled at the top of the levees along the Mississippi, more than 50 feet above the river. The odor varies from soapy to what one Waterkeeper member described as “industrial, like degreaser or chemical cleaners.” Intermittent reports of these discharges stretch back even further, to August of 2021. Just like in Eminence, these discharges are violations of Missouri’s water quality standards and MSD’s permit.

“When you’re walking or biking along the Riverfront Trail, or paddling in the river, you can actually smell this pollution before you can see it,” said Charles Miller, policy manager at Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper. “Many times, water pollution isn’t this obvious, but when it is, it’s definitely something we’re going to investigate.”

These violations underscore that Missouri’s water pollution issues are not limited to a specific region, or to urban, suburban, or rural areas. St. Louis is the state’s largest metro area, and MSD is one of its largest public utilities, handling wastewater from hundreds of thousands of residential customers and numerous industrial dischargers. Eminence is a scenic Ozarks town with fewer than 1,000 residents and no major industrial polluters. Yet each is facing water pollution problems from poor water infrastructure maintenance or management.

Both issues were initially brought to Waterkeeper’s attention by members who were paddling on these stretches of river. Once notified, Waterkeeper investigated each case.

“In Eminence and St. Louis, paddlers were able to see the impact, but this isn’t always the case, which is why the monitoring that Waterkeeper does is so important” said Linden Mueller, Development and Community Outreach Director at Great Rivers. “It really underscores the value of having an independent watchdog to step in cases when and where state agencies won’t.”

If you notice any unusual sights or smells in your local waterway, contact Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper at 314-884-1473 or via social media, where they are @MOWaterkeeper on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Image: The area downstream of Eminence’s wastewater treatment facility illustrating the effect of pollution on the Jacks Fork River.