How septic tanks contribute to E. coli at the Lake of the Ozarks
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How septic tanks contribute to E. coli at the Lake of the Ozarks

Date: November 5, 2009
By: Max Reiss and Rebecca Berg
State Capitol Bureau
Links: See the series on Sewage at the Lake

Intro:  In the first three reports of this investigative series about bacteria contamination at the Lake of the Ozarks, we described how E. coli affects you, the lake's development, and the communication of state agencies when there's a water quality and public safety issue at the lake. In this Fourth installment, Max Reiss tells you the sources of the bacteria contamination and the mixed messages coming from the state government offices.
RunTime:  2:19
OutCue:  SOC

Wrap: When rain falls at the Lake of the Ozarks, it causes sewage and wastewater to flow into the lake from septic tanks.

That's what embattled natural resources director Mark Templeton told Senate investigators looking into how his agency withheld E. coli bacteria information from the public.

Actuality:  TEMPTES1.WAV
Run Time:  00:12
Description: "It's not a great place to have septic, and that when you have the rainfall, it's going to wash the, things that you know, the things that have the bacteria into the lake."
That's not what he told reporters at a press conference with Governor Jay Nixon eight days earlier.
 
Templeton pointed to flocks of geese as the source of the E. coli contamination.

But faulty septic tanks exist all along the Lake of the Ozarks shoreline.

University of Missouri soil sciences professor Randall Miles says they include 50 and 60 year old septic tanks.

Actuality:  RMILES1.WAV
Run Time:  00:09
Description: "Many of them have a 55 gallon drum as a septic tank and then a straight pipe out from there where it then seeps on the ground."

Miles says there are basic reasons why septic tanks fail.

Actuality:  RMILES2.WAV
Run Time:  00:10
Description: "Sometimes the soil is bad. Sometimes it was put in improperly. And sometimes it just wasn't managed long-term from an operations and maintenance standpoint."

Those repairs aren't cheap, often costing thousands of dollars. Septic tank repairmen say replacing a septic tank could cost as much as 35,000 dollars.

In some areas of the Lake of the Ozarks, like Gravois Mills, one quarter of families live below the poverty line.

Tracy Rank with the Benton County Health Department says septic tanks force some people to make very difficult decisions.

Actuality:  RANK2.WAV
Run Time:  00:15
Description: "I have one family right now that has to abandon their house because they cannot afford to fix the septic. And you know I have a job to do and I say 'you have to stop polluting' and the only way for them to stop polluting is to stop using water so they're going to leave their house."

Templeton offered his advice on what to do about septic tanks to Senate investigators.

Actuality:  TEMPES2.WAV
Run Time:  00:07
Description: "You have septic systems that need to be inspected maintained, repaired. . . shut down."
Templeton refused repeated requests to be interviewed.

When asked by Senate investigators if septic tanks should be regulated by the Department of Natural Resources instead of the health department, Templeton said he had no opinion.

Reporting from Jefferson City with Rebecca Berg, I'm Max Reiss, Newsradio 1120, KMOX.

Intro:  The natural resources department sends mixed messages when detailing how harmful bacteria got into the Lake of the Ozarks last summer.
RunTime:  0:43
OutCue:  SOC

Wrap: Embattled Natural Resources Director Mark Templeton said geese were the source of E. coli at the Lake of the Ozarks.

But he told senate investigators a different reason when asked behind closed doors.

Actuality:  TEMPTES1.WAV
Run Time:  00:12
Description: "It's not a great place to have septic, and that when you have the rainfall, it's going to wash the, things that you know, the things that have the bacteria into the lake."

Templeton refused repeated interview requests for this story.

Soil experts also say the Lake of the Ozarks shoreline isn't conducive to septic tanks.

Broken septic tanks that leak into the lake are very expensive to fix and could cost as much $35,000 to replace.

Reporting from the state Capitol, I'm Max Reiss, Newsradio 1120 KMOX.

Intro:  Septic tanks have lined the Lake of the Ozarks shoreline for more than fifty years but after last summer's E. coli controversy they are now an issue.
RunTime:  0:38
OutCue:  SOC

Wrap: The state's natural resources director acknowledged septic tanks contribute to the bacteria contamination at the Lake of the Ozarks.

University of Missouri soil sciences professor Randall Miles says some people have 50 and 60 year old septic tanks contributing to the lake's pollution.

Actuality:  RMILES1.WAV
Run Time:  00:08
Description: "Many of them have a 55 gallon drum as a septic tank and then a straight pipe out from there where it then seeps on the ground."

Septic tanks are expensive to maintain sometimes costing several thousands of dollars - so those people with old ones may not have the money to pay for new ones.

Reporting from the state Capitol, I'm Max Reiss, Newsradio 1120 KMOX.


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