The title is so simple, yet it says so much: the truth. The not-so-simple task in discussing water quality at the Lake of the Ozarks is sorting through the mountain of technical data, news articles, DNR publications and ah yes, the politics and media hype. But with all that said, this is an honest attempt to provide a factual and balanced look at the much publicized and politicized issue of water quality at the Lake.

Everyone has some mental image of the meaning of “good water quality.” Descriptive adjectives such as “clean,” “pure,” “clear” or even “good taste” come to mind. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? But in reality, the chemistry of water quality is a very complex, technical subject, and easily misunderstood. In addition, the data results are easily misinterpreted. For the scientific community, there are specific methods established by the EPA for not only the taking of water samples, but also the analysis and interpretation of the results. This interpretation also needs to take into account the environmental factors that may have influenced those results.

A prime example of an influencing environmental factor is rainfall. And so it was with sample results that immediately followed heavy rainfall on Memorial Day Weekend of 2009. These water-quality testing results that showed high levels of bacteria in May 2009, due to rainfall, caused the water quality issue at the Lake of the Ozarks to literally hit the fan last year. Accordingly, there are some questions that must be answered: What are E.Coli bacteria anyway? Why were all these samples being taken in the first place? Who took them? What was the purpose of the samples? What were we supposed to learn from them? What about wastewater treatment plants around the Lake? What can you and I do to help keep our Lake clean?


As part of the multiyear process of getting a new operating license for Bagnell Dam, AmerenUE agreed to provide funding for a five-year study of bacterial levels in Lake coves. This was a condition of the Water Quality Certification issued by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Per the agreement, AmerenUE provided $15,000 per year for five years.

Sampling began in 2007 and will continue through 2011. This study is a five-year cooperative effort by the DNR and The Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance (LOWA). The plan includes collecting samples from the entire length of the Lake from Bagnell Dam to Harry S. Truman Dam. Each year, approximately 30 coves are sampled monthly during the recreational season (May-October); each cove is sampled every other month. DNR provides training to LOWA volunteers who collect the water samples. Samples are then analyzed by DNR’s laboratory using methods approved by the EPA. Analysis for Escherichia coliform bacteria (E. coli) is included. Three years of the five-year sampling program have been completed. So what has been learned?


Since the beginning of the study in 2007, some 1,012 samples have been collected and analyzed. The annual and three-year geometric means have been below the State Water Quality Standard geometric mean of 126 cells/100 ml of water. Approximately 4 percent of the samples exceeded the EPA’s recommended single-sample maximum criteria for May, June, July, August, September and October.

Each year of the survey, the E. coli levels were highest in the spring when precipitation and runoff were greatest and trended downward throughout the summer. At this point, a proper question might be: But what about the isolated high readings? The numbers on the accompanying chart are all averages (geometric mean). Is someone trying to hide the high readings? To answer this, several things need to be examined. The objective of the sampling effort was to identify “areas of concern that may degrade water quality” at the Lake. The sampling effort was never intended to take single sample data and offer conclusions about the health of the entire Lake. Furthermore, taking water quality samples immediately after heavy rainfall, then drawing broad sweeping conclusions about the Lake’s health, is simply bad science.

According to Lake Regional Hospital there have been no confirmed cases of sickness from bacteria due to swimming in the Lake of the Ozarks in the last three years. In addition, Greg Stoner, fisheries biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, says the fishery in the Lake of the Ozarks is healthy. A healthy fishery is one of the many indicators of good, year-round water quality in the Lake. The numbers, charts and words from the experts all tell the same story: The Lake of the Ozarks is a clean Lake.

So really, the right question to ask is: How can I help keep the Lake clean? Each of us shares in this responsibility.


I normally try not to write in first person, but for the sake of this issue, I wanted to take a moment to speak on a personal note, having enjoyed the Lake of the Ozarks for more than 40 years. I am a former competitive water-skier who still loves a good slalom run, or an afternoon wake-boarding with my family and friends. On hot Saturday afternoons, we especially enjoy the relaxation of just anchoring the boat, turning on some good music and floating on an air mattress. Through the years, I have taught dozens of kids as well as adults to ski for the first time and I have taken dozens more on some pretty wild tube rides. Never in those 40 years of being in the Lake’s water have I ever had any sickness or infection in any way related to being in the water, and I can say the same for those who have been out on the water with me. Our Lake is a beautiful, clean Lake for us to enjoy. I am privileged to see you on the lake.


Don’t rake leaves into the Lake.

If you are not on a community sewage system, have your system checked.

If your ship unfortunately sinks (we’re sorry), hire a reputable company to raise it back up, and make sure the leaking oil is contained and cleaned up.

Fertilize your yard only if you really need it. Get a soil test before you fertilize!

Be one of the hundreds of volunteers for the spring and fall Shoreline Cleanup. For info, call Bryan Vance, Field Coordinator, at 573-365-9252.

Sources: Missouri Department of Natural Resources Website,; Lake of the Ozarks Water Quality Initiative Report by DNR, December 2009; Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance Website,; The Citizens for the Preservation of Lake of the Ozarks,; Missouri Department of Conservation.


1. Lake of the Ozarks is one of the most tested lakes in Missouri. Its overall water quality is very good and it is considered to be one of the best places in the country to fish and play.

2. In the past three years, there have been no confirmed cases of sickness from the E. coli bacteria due to swimming in the Lake of the Ozarks.

3. In 2009, Health Magazine proclaimed Lake of the Ozarks as one of the healthiest lakes in the country.

4. Only one of the hundreds of strains of E. coli causes illness such as the strains found in undercooked meat and raw vegetables. no test has ever been done to determine the source of E. coli found in Lake of the Ozarks.

5. Lake of the Ozarks has hundreds of coves and 1150 miles of shoreline. During memo- rial Day weekend 2009, some samples from the Lake were taken that showed high E. coli levels. These samples were taken immediately following unusually heavy rainfall.

6. Missouri Department of natural resources, in accordance to EPA standards, revealed the test results in the months following memorial Day weekend 2009 that stated the Lake of the Ozarks was healthy and clean.

7. In a Missouri Department of natural resources news release dated October 9, 2009, the state water quality standard for lakes and rivers that support swimming and related whole body contact recreation is a geometric mean (average over a period of time) of 126 E. coli colonies per 100 milliliters of water. The geometric mean for the entire 2009 recreational season – May through October – was 8.8 E. coli colonies per 100 milliliters of water.

8. As would be true with any lake or river, swimmers should avoid drinking the water and take other normal precautions such as washing their hands before handling food. With that in mind, it is safe to swim, ski and enjoy the water at the Lake of the Ozarks!

9. The Lake of the Ozarks is healthy and safe. We are taking proactive steps to ensure the future environmental health of the Lake of the Ozarks. Please join us in our efforts.

This information was produced by a local group, the Citizens for the Preservation of Lake of the Ozarks.


Escherichia coliform bacteria (e. coli) — Coliform bacteria are a collection of microorganisms that live in large numbers in the intestines of warm-blooded animals including humans and birds. a specific subgroup of coliform bacteria is fecal coliform bacteria, the most common member being Escherichia coli. organisms such as e. coli bacteria usually do not cause disease, but their presence may indicate that other microbial pathogens are present in the water. Only a few types of E. coli cause sickness.

Water Quality Initiative Report, DNR, December 2009

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