Don’t Drink the Water, Or Swim in It

That seems like the story lately for many of Missouri’s aquatic recreation areas. This week the Missouri Coalition for the Environment said they are taking action to change that. They filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the EPA to prompt them to enforce the Clean Water Act in Missouri.

Clean water is an investment we need to make in this state and this lawsuit is a huge step to making this happen, said Caroline Ishida, staff attorney for MCE.

Missouri touts itself as having the most waterways of any of the 50 states, but at issue are the roughly 150,000 miles of streams that are not designated–basically meaning they are unprotected from discharges and unregulated.

“What do the waters look like that we’re not paying attention to if the ones we are testing are contaminated with high levels of E-coli?” Ishida asked.

MCE brought the suit after more than 5 years of discussions with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

I was at the MDNR stakeholder meetings in the spring of 2005, and wrote a story about water quality then. Crafting rules that account for various uses of Missouri’s waterways is a daunting challenge, but failing to protect our most important resource is unacceptable.

Ishida said people need to speak up about how they use their local waterways and to educate themselves about the designated uses, as well as know what’s going on upstream. You can check current stream classifications from the Missouri Secretary of State’s site.

Renee Bungart, spokesperson for MDNR, said they just received a copy of the lawsuit Thursday and that they are looking it over. She added that MDNR staff are also working on a plan to address the loss of permitting fees, which are set to expire at the end of this year. The fees help support their monitoring and enforcement of water quality standards.


Young Skillet Documentary Tonight at Ragtag!

Come see the food and filming skills children developed in the Young Skillet summer camp, an empowering camp that taught gardening, cooking and film-making skills to 16 kids from Columbia’s First Ward.  Columbia Community Montessori School teacher Myke Gemkow and his brother Dan Gemkow, along with some of the Young Skillet chefs, will discuss what they learned after sharing the films.

Ragtag Cinema at 6:00 p.m.

This week in sustainability

The Plastiki, a boat constructed from 12,000 plastic water bottles, safely crossed the Pacific Ocean and docked in Sydney, Australia this week. The voyage sought to raise awareness of the massive floating plastic islands in the world’s oceans, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is roughly the size of Texas.

What can you do? Cut out the use of single use plastics. If you do use them, be sure to recycle them properly, but know that most of the time, they’re actually being downcycled, or turned into a less valuable product. To learn more about downcycling and innovative design ideas check out Cradle to Cradle. When you recycle, be sure to follow the local guidelines. Putting items in the mix that can’t be recycled corrupts the batch, wasting energy, time and money. Check out Columbia’s video on recycling.

–Stakeholders will come together next week to discuss a compromise on Missouri’s renewable energy future. The issue—whether investor-owned utilities will be required to meet Missouri’s renewable energy standard by purchasing or producing power from Missouri and regional sources, or whether they can buy renewable energy credits from anywhere to meet the standard. Check out the article at the Missourian.

–Climate legislation was passed—on to the next legislative session, but Congress still might pass a national renewable energy standard next week. Rep. Mark Thompson, D-Calif, introduced a bill that would provide a national legislative fix to the residential PACE program. Gov. Nixon signed PACE into law a few weeks ago.

–The oil has stopped flowing from the BP spill, but the ramifications of the both the oil and the dispersants used to clean up the mess remains to be seen.

Free Rain Barrels!

The city of Columbia is giving away rain barrels. You still have to purchase the hardware, but you can pick up a 55-gallon barrel from stormwater educator Mike Heimos. Give him a call at 573-817-6447 or email him at to arrange for a pick-up.

Mike Heimos leads a group through a section of Flat Branch Creek to pick up bottles, cigarette butts and other debris that washed into the waterway.

After you pick up your barrel, you can watch Heimos video about how to assemble it, or check out my slide show and story at the

Advancing Rewables in Missouri Will Require a Diverse Approach

Mark Templeton, Director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, kicked off the Advancing Renewables conference by outlining where Missouri stands in renewable production, where we hope to be in the next several years and the multi-faceted process for getting there.

The good news—Missouri has more then $200 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to invest on energy improvements and development.

The bad news—Missouri has actually increased its out-of-state imports of coal in the last few years, more than any other Midwestern state. In 2008, $1.1 billon was spent on coal imports. For every Missourian $190 is spent on importing coal, while only $0.22 per person is invested in efficiency, Templeton said.

Missouri ranks seventh out of eight Midwestern states, just above Indiana in total renewable production and 82 percent of Missouri’s renewable energy production is in the transportation sector, namely ethanol and biodiesel—fuels that have questionable environmental benefits.

If you think the answer is blowing in the wind, you might be disappointed.

Missouri is not going to lead the nation in solar or wind generation, Templeton said. However, recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory maps rank Missouri 13th in wind energy potential and the state’s summer solar capacity is similar to Florida.

“Biomass could be one of our biggest strengths moving forward.” Templeton said a diversity of resources is key, but the state needs to approach resource cultivation wisely. “We don’t need to clear cut the Ozarks again.”

Saving energy isn’t just about saving money and protecting the environment. It has tremendous job growth potential too.

“Green jobs go across the entire economic spectrum,” Templeton said.

The challenges are too numerous to address here, but look for greater information about your power usage in the future, such as real-time smart meter monitoring. Columbia Water and Light is trying to secure a grant to fund a residential smart meter pilot program this fall.

Gov. Nixon Signed PACE, what’s next?

We now have Property Assessed Clean Energy in Missouri. What does that mean? That’s exactly what I’ll be reporting on Thursday and Friday from the Advancing Renewables and PACE conferences.

Stakeholders will discuss how to move forward in the commercial and industrial sectors, and discuss residential programs, many of which across the nation were put on hold because of a letter from the Federal Housing Finance Agency penned because of lending giants Freddie May and Freddie Mac’s concerns that PACE payments would take precedence over mortgage repayments if borrowers defaulted.

Through PACE property owners can finance renewable energy and efficiency improvements through an additional tax assessment on their property. To qualify, the yearly energy savings for a property must be more than the tax assessment.

For example, say I wanted to add insulation in my basement and attic and a PV system on my roof. The total cost of the project is $11,000, including $1,000 for administrative costs and interest.  The PACE bond covers the upfront cost, while I pay a yearly assessment for 20 years.

My net energy savings for the year–which would be evaluated by an energy auditor–must be more than the cost of the property assessment, so I need to save $551 per year to qualify because my yearly tax assessment would be $550.

Jason Hughes of Renew Missouri said a national legislative fix for the residential program could come as soon as the next three weeks.

PACE recipients in California and New York aren’t waiting. Lawsuits are being filed that will pressure lending giants Fannie May and Freddie Mac and the FHFA to devising a solution.

Stay tuned for updates…

There’s More to a Meal than Food Miles

Wondering where you food came from? I was, and the answer is it’s complicated. Discover what I found in this week’s Locally Grown column in the Missourian.