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New legislation could have major implications for state's clean water enforcement — here's what could happen

Some agricultural groups back the axing of this occurrence from clean water enforcement policy.

Some agricultural groups back the axing of this occurrence from clean water enforcement policy.

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The Missouri state government is considering legislation that would remove "nonpoint sources" from the definition of a contamination source in the state's water laws. Discussed by a Missouri House committee back in February, this bill would sabotage state environmental regulators' capacity to mitigate farm runoff, according to critics. 

What's happening?

Per the Missouri Independent, "nonpoint source" pollution encompasses the indirect ways water becomes contaminated. One example is by fertilizers and animal waste, which wash off farms' fields, leaching nitrate and phosphorus into rivers and streams. 

Some agricultural groups back the axing of this occurrence from clean water enforcement policy. Their logic is that the way the law is currently written, farmers could be required to have a permit for just about anything they do. However, John Madras, a former employee of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, says nonpoint source pollution has always been exempt from permitting requirements. 

"It's never been there," he said in the meeting discussing the bill, per the Independent. "It's never anticipated to be there." 

If this bill passes, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources — which is responsible in part for protecting the state's water — could lose $4.7 million in funding. 

Why is water pollution concerning? 

Access to clean water is a fundamental human right recognized by the United Nations, and basic human needs are put at risk when it is endangered. For a community to function safely and healthily, there should be no worry about the sanitation of its water. 

According to the Missouri Independent, in the Midwest specifically, the concentration of farms causes nonpoint source pollution to be a major issue. Of the rivers listed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as "impaired waters," 87% are there because of nonpoint source pollution. 

Additionally, nutrient pollution from farms flows down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, contributing to algae blooms and creating a dead zone where fish cannot survive. 

What's being done about water pollution? 

Fortunately, programs and policies are in place to protect our nation's water from these kinds of crises and to conserve it in the face of an overheating planet.

A program in Florida is working to clean up storm drains in order to protect our oceans and bays, and a new proposal from the Biden-Harris administration could conserve at least 3 million acre-feet of water in the West over the next three years. 

It's impossible to put measurable limits on nonpoint source pollution because it's not confined, according to the Missouri Independent. However, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources currently has voluntary incentives and programs in place to help farmers reduce their pollution, efforts that can remain in place if the passage of this bill does not jeopardize their funding. 

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