Rapid growth and expansion in southwest Missouri are threatening the water resources this region’s population, agriculture, and tourism industry so heavily depend upon. In response to this threat, several watershed groups in southwest Missouri collaborated to secure federal funding for water protection efforts in this region. As a result of this effort, the Environmental Resources Coalition (ERC) received a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant to develop and manage the Southwest Missouri Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP), a mult-year, multi-stakeholder effort to address water quality issues in this region. WQIP has initially been tasked with assembling, evaluating, and interpreting existing water quality for several major basins in southwest Missouri. The Elk River basin is the subject of this report.

The Elk River basin is approximately 1,031 square miles located primarily in southwest Missouri, but also includes portions of northeast Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas. Major tributaries of the Elk River include Buffalo, Indian, and Big Sugar Creeks. Water quality regulatory concerns in the basin include a nutrient total maximum daily load on the Elk River and its tributaries and the impairment of Indian Creek and the Elk River for bacteria. Water quality data from the Elk River basin were compiled from multiple collection entities including the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Newton County Health Department, Crowder College, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The data were analyzed for total phosphorus, total nitrogen, nitrate plus nitrite as nitrogen, and Escherichia coli (E. coli). Nutrient levels varied throughout the basin, but were frequently observed above recommended eutrophic threshold values recommended by Dodds et al. (1998). Phosphorus and nitrogen levels were most notably elevated in a tributary to McKisic Creek near Bentonville, Arkansas. Escherichia coli (E. coli) geometric means frequently exceeded state criteria; particularly in the Indian Creek watershed where the greatest concentration of combined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) exists in the Elk River basin.

Based on a data gap analysis of the existing water quality data in the Elk River basin, several recommendations were made for WQIP. Formation of a monitoring coordinating board could benefit all the stakeholder entities in WQIP by standardizing sampling designs, quality assurance programs, metadata requirements, and by developing a centralized database to facilitate the sharing of water quality data. Current and historical water quality data are insufficient to fully address the goals of WQIP; therefore, a new comprehensive water quality monitoring network needs to be designed. Further data analysis and potential special storm water studies are also recommended to better understand nonpoint source loading issues. WQIP stakeholders are encouraged to participate in the development of regional stream nutrient criteria through stakeholder involvement and further water quality studies. Finally, efforts should be made to incorporate additional existing water quality data into the WQIP database that were not populated at the time of the database’s creation.

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Prepared for the Environmental Resouce Coalition.
Prepared by MEC Water Resources, Inc. and Ozarks Envrionmental Water Resources Institute, Missouri State University.

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