James and Finley rivers show different water quality

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July 17, 2002

Charlie Farmer, Springfield News Leader

James and Finley rivers show different water quality

For the past 15 years or so, those of us who live in the Ozarks have heard a lot about the good and bad of the health of our free-flowing waters.

Forget the Corps of Engineers impoundments. We have little or no control over reservoirs. Streams and rivers, though, are an important part of our heritage.

There is little doubt that anglers, hunters, canoers, campers and hikers are generally the most reliable watch guards when it comes to stifling the dirty deeds of polluters. Most are connected to one or more environmental groups.

Are the Missouri Ozarks winning the clean streams and rivers? Or is it mostly lip service? Is the James River healthier than it was two years ago?

Does one of the finest fishing streams, the Finley River, have better water quality now? Not according to the Christian County Health Department. The department has posted signs warning people that they should not have body contact in the Finley due to extremely high fecal coliform.

Yet, at the park and launch ramp, there was a family with three young children who were swimming within sight of the warning sign. The kids were diving under the surface and apparently inhaling bad water.

Brooks McNeill is an environmental specialist in water issues for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in Springfield. He majored in wildlife conservation. Like many who love the Ozark streams, he hopes they get better. This spring and summer so far he is pleased with the condition of the James River.

As McNeill put it, there are still some problems with ammonia and phosphorus that are above the max.

As for fishing, eating fish out of the James and swimming in the water as it is now is pretty safe.

“Their will be bacteria in any stream or river,” McNeill said. “It’s part of nature. All and all the James is pretty good.”

McNeill acknowledged that he has not worked on the Finley River, but feels that stream, especially upstream, is in pretty good shape.

Stephen Jones, professor of biology and Director of Environmental Studies at Drury University, did a comprehensive survey of the Finley with cohorts. It was based on field surveys, water quality and the biological integrity of fish communities.

The Finley River basin, located primarily in Christian and Webster counties, is the third largest tributary of the James River with a length of 53 miles. Numerous permanent springs contribute to a stable base flow throughout the basin.

According to Jones, the Finley was regarded as one of the premier recreational streams in the Ozarks.

“Smallmouth and goggle-eye fishing, spring sucker runs, cool clear swimming holes, and the beauty of the landscape attracted many people to the Finley Valley,” Jones said. “Swimming and fishing still occur in the middle and upper Finley, but degradation of water quality in the lower Finley has sharply reduced recreational activity.”

One reason for this degradation is effluent discharge from the Ozark and Nixa wastewater treatment facilities. Both chemical and aesthetic qualities of the lower Finley are affected by these discharges.

Nonpoint pollution treatment plants at Fordland, Seymour, the Ozark Correction Center, and five businesses are additional reasons for diminished water quality in other reaches of the basin.

Some of these pollution sources have been corrected since the pilot study.

Jones says that there are other impacts on the Finley.

“They include gravel mining, urban expansion, impaired riparian corridors and cows wallowing in the Finley,” he said.

The lower Finley has a history of excessive fecal coliform counts that have exceeded the “200 limit” on numerous occasions and during every year except 1997.

In 1998 and 1999 the Missouri Departments of Natural Resources and Health issued a whole body contact advisory for the Finely below Ozark because fecal coliforms were not consistently below 200 colonies/100ml.

For more information about the Missouri Department of Natural Resources water issues, log on to: http://www.dnr.state.mo.us.
 


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