By Liz Forrestal and Caroline Ishida

We are gratified that Gov. Jay Nixon has returned Mark Templeton to his job as Director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Templeton was an unfortunate victim of the recent controversy over elevated levels of the bacterium E. coli in the Lake of the Ozarks. But this flap has distracted from a far more troubling problem: the insufficient monitoring of ALL Missouri waters.

Along with many others, our organizations were dismayed to learn of the serious oversight and bungling of mid-level officials in both the DNR and Governor’s office. The miscommunication between these two offices was inexcusable and deserved to be investigated. Moreover, we completely agree that the lake’s beaches should have been closed to protect public health. But the origins of E. coli in the lake -- and what that says about the water quality monitoring and enforcement program at DNR – should be front and center in this discussion. Furthermore, a large-scale cleanup at the lake like the one Nixon announced is merely a band-aid solution to a larger water quality monitoring and enforcement problem all over the state.

At the root of the problem is that funding for DNR’s water quality monitoring and enforcement program is completely insufficient to protect the health of our waters. General revenue support for DNR was gutted by the Blunt administration, and permit fees have not been raised in more than a decade, even for inflation. These are the problems that should be at the center of the E. coli discussion, and they started well before the arrival of Templeton.

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