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Will City Council Manage The Watershed Or ‘Kick The Can Down The Road’?

Stormwater Runoff
Stormwater Runoff Photo Credit: Flickr-eutrophication&hypoxia

Last September, 30 Springfield citizens were tasked with studying the long-term needs of the city and county stormwater programs, including issues related to flooding, water quality, and the aging stormwater infrastructure. Their nearly yearlong study is now complete, and last week recommendations were presented to officials.

Last September, 30 Springfield citizens were tasked with studying the long-term needs of the city and county stormwater programs, including issues related to flooding, water quality, and the aging stormwater infrastructure. Their nearly yearlong study is now complete, and last week recommendations were presented to officials.

Stacey Armstrong, project manager with the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks, is a member of the Task Force.

“We have excellent water quality, some of the best in the state, and we just want to maintain and keep it that way. It is so important, not only for our health but also for our economy and tourism and recreation. Really our culture and our lifestyle is so connected to water quality,” said Armstrong.

Armstrong said the Task Force was in agreement that both entities have a need to fund flood risk reduction, water quality, and infrastructure programs, and that the city and county need to share in the burden.

It’ll cost between $7.75-11 million per year to maintain water quality in and around Springfield. To pay for that, the Task Force has recommended reinstating the 1/8th cent county sales tax that expired last June, in addition to a new 1/10th cent storm water sales tax. They recommend that voters renew these taxes every seven years.

Armstrong says the recommendations were strong and well thought out. She said they are appropriate for where the community is at this point.

Springfield City Manager Greg Burris says he is thoroughly pleased with how

the Task Force took their time to really understand the complex issue of managing the watershed.

“It was very much an open public process where you got to watch people learning and you got to see the light bulb come on at one point. People got a chance to discover how important this is to our community, and what effect if would have if we ignored it,” said Burris.

Burris says that funding these storm water programs falls under the “Gotta Do” category for the city. They must meet current EPA and DNR regulations or else pay a penalty and still be forced to follow the regulations.

And the city knows all too well just how tough it can be to meet the mounting federal regulations.  Last year Springfield filed a lawsuit against the EPA stating that their regulations were both unreasonable and unattainable.

“EPA did withdrawal from our lawsuit and said we will eliminate the restrictions for now, we will go back and redo them. We will come back with a new set of stormwater restrictions. We’re in a waiting game right now. It might be a year from now. It might be two years from now, but we know that were going to receive another set or restrictions. Whether they will be more attainable or more reasonable, we don’t know yet,” admitted Burris.

The next step in the process now is for the city to determine the urgency of storm water needs compared to the urgency of other needs. Because the maintenance of the watershed is left up the both Springfield and Greene County, and given the county’s financial situation, according to Burris, stormwater will remain on the backburner.  

“So they’ve got this crying baby on the doorstep that they have to resolve before they can even think about stormwater. They have a jail bursting at the seams. They are wrestling with so many problems, stormwater is just another wobbly plate,” says Burris.

Burris went on to explain that the stormwater is not the most pressing issue for the City of Springfield either. The renewal of the Police/Fire Pension Tax holds precedence. He said if they were to ignore that tax, then Springfield would find itself in the same shoes as Detroit- bankrupt.

He said the Pension Tax will likely come to vote in April of 2014.

“I don’t anticipate anything from the city prior to that, and the City Council has made a commitment that it will not introduce any new city taxes until that April 2014, and they may re-up that commitment at that point,” stated Burris.

After the last two stormwater projects that the city is currently working on are complete, there will be no more upgrading of stormwater infrastructure, no additional flood risk reduction, and no effort to meet water quality mandates.

In a year or two, or more, the city and county will put the question up to vote. Should the community pay additional taxes to maintain the watershed? Or will they, as Burris put it, kick the can down the road?

Only time will tell.

For KSMU News, I’m Shane Franklin.