It may not be fake news exactly, but another recent report by environmental activists attempts to discredit Mississippi River basin states’ progress toward meeting water quality goals.

One water quality threat that makes national news is excess nutrients, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus.  Last year Missouri became one of 12 Mississippi River basin states to adopt a nutrient loss reduction strategy in accordance with criteria set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Environmental activists are not impressed.  In a report released in November, they slam state nutrient reduction plans and call on EPA to set strict new standards for nutrients in streams and lakes.  Shortly after the report was released, Missouri’s environmental activists and EPA settled a related lawsuit.  They agreed Missouri will set standards next year, or else EPA will.

What’s missing is the fact that 7 years ago Missouri was the first state to propose comprehensive nutrient standards, but the EPA rejected them.  Since then, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has worked openly and transparently to develop new standards, in the process posting extensive research and analysis online and holding public meetings.

The problem is: The science is not simple.  As noted in Missouri’s nutrient strategy, “many significant uncertainties remain in solving the nutrient loading issue.”  Researchers advise caution. Yet environmental activists trumpet overestimates based on models rather than measurements. Furthermore, EPA requires standards to be based on “scientifically defensible methods,” and in fact, cited this as a shortcoming of DNR’s first nutrient standards.

Missouri’s water is cleaner today than it was 30-40 years ago, but threats remain, according to the 2016 DNR water quality assessment. Environmentally sound business practices and initiatives led by individuals and communities that address potential threats to water quality by reducing risks are working and expanding.  Thanks to these efforts in addition to regulatory vigilance, Missouri’s drinking and recreational waters are largely in good shape; however, it will always be an ongoing process.

Criticism and court action make headlines.  But under the news radar, improvement is ongoing, and reasoned scientific analysis is achieving real progress in water quality protection. Manmade sources of nitrogen and phosphorus can and should be properly managed, but accusations and misinformation are counterproductive.