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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 0:10 EDT

City Shouldn’t Have Dived into Philips Lake

September 26, 2008

By KEN MIDKIFF

Nyah, nyah, nyah. Told you so, told you so. OK, that’s somewhat childish. But that was my first reaction when I learned that Philips Lake (or Bristol Lake, or whatever it is called these days) was recommended for placement on the state’s “impaired waterbody” – or 303(d) – list.

This documents that Philips Lake is officially “waters of the state” and “waters of the United States.” It is not a farm pond, where all of the waters are contained within one property. Rather the waters of Philips Lake drain from across Highway 63 and into Clear Creek – both well beyond the boundaries of the Philips Tract, now owned by Jose Lindner.

Granted, the pollutant is mercury and comes from atmospheric deposition. There are a number of water bodies – mostly ones with a lot of surface acres – that are polluted by mercury. No one seems to be much inclined to do anything about this because the sources are many coal-fired power plants to our west – maybe as far away as China or as close as Kansas.

So, while there’s not much planned to deal with the mercury pollution of Philips Lake, it is clear that the city of Columbia, by accepting Philips Lake, has also taken on the responsibility of keeping it supportive for recreation in and on the water and for aquatic life.

The standards for the first category – recreation in and on the water – are primarily the level of germs, and those standards are likely to be met. The presence of high levels of germs stems mostly from sewage, and, as far as is known, there’s no sewage runoff into Philips Lake. But, regardless of statements from the city of Columbia that swimming will not be promoted, the waters of Philips Lake must meet the standards for recreation in and on the water. The only possibility for escaping those standards is to show that no one has engaged in swimming or boating since 1975 – a high hurdle, indeed. Again, however, there is little likelihood germs will contaminate Philips Lake.

The second category – aquatic life – is more problematic. Aquatic life – fish, waterborne insect larvae, crustaceans (such as crayfish) – don’t do very well in sediment. Sediment runoff, otherwise known as mud and all the nasty things it contains, is quite likely as construction moves forward at the Philips Tract. The city of Columbia is now responsible for ensuring that the waters of Philips Lake are not impaired by that runoff.

The developer has constructed berms around the lake to prevent runoff from construction from entering it. But storm-water prevention measures fail. Water overtops berms. Berms collapse. Akin to those plastic fences, berms do real well in dry weather but don’t fare so well in heavy rains. This area has experienced lots of rainy weather this summer, and neither plastic or straw fences nor earthen berms are designed to handle the downpours we have experienced lately.

What happens when berms are overtopped or fail? Sediment – mud containing construction debris – goes downhill. Downhill in this instance is Philips Lake.

Like it or not, by accepting Philips Lake as part of the parks system, the city of Columbia also accepted the liability for construction runoff.

As was pointed out, the city went for a pig in a poke and lost.

Ken Midkiff is Osage Group conservation chairman and author of “The Meat You Eat” and “Not a Drop to Drink.” You can reach him via e-mail at editor@tribmail.com.

Originally published by KEN MIDKIFF.

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