E. coli and coliform bacteria in the Niangua River at Lead Mine Conservation Area (CA) made Sara Rundle and her family sick on different occasions, the Tunas resident said.
Two or three years ago, Rundle experienced a leg wound infection she attributes to swimming in the river, and last year her husband became sick for two weeks after getting his face wet swimming. Rundle said the river smelled like an “open sewer” last month. The same June day, she witnessed a camper in the Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) primitive campsite openly defecating near the river’s edge.
“What an experience to share with my 7-year-old granddaughter,” Rundle said. “This is ridiculous.”
The following Monday, Rundle’s chronical began. She used a water sample kit from the Dallas County Health Department to test water in her chosen swimming area at the Mill Pond access point. However, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services drinking water test showed coliform bacteria and E. coli were present without giving the number of colonies per 100 milliliters of water. The state sets certain levels of contaminants safe enough for whole body contact swimming.
The Niangua River water was submitted as a drinking water sample, Megan Hopkins, public information officer for the Department of Health and Senior Services, wrote in an email response.
“Drinking water samples go through a presence/absence test, as any presence of coliform is unsafe to drink,” Hopkins said.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources states E.coli is commonly found in water sources and most strains are harmless, but one strain, E. coli O157:H7, could cause serious illness.
Someone from a responsible agency should personally take a sample and test the water, she said. If the water is unsafe, the least Rundle expects is for MDC to post warning signs.
“I’d like to go in the river without getting sick,” she said.
Businesses from Bennett Springs all the way to Lake of the Ozarks rely on the Niangua River. They can’t afford to have bacterially unsafe water, Rundle said.
“This is the Show-Me state. Show me this water is safe,” Rundle said. “I’ll be glad to meet someone there to test the water.”
The only pit toilet at Lead Mine CA is at the horse campsite, about two miles up a hilly road from the Mill Pond river access and campsites. Seasonal portable toilets from April through October would require minimum labor and minimum cost, Rundle said.
Even if her request makes it on the next budget, Rundle wants change now. Members of the Amish Mennonite community cool off in the river after hot days without air conditioning, she said. The river water needs to be safe, or at least warn its users of possible danger.
“Would you let your kids swim in this?” Rundle asked. “No one will answer that question.”