Water comic

The city of Maryville knew at least two years ago that Mozingo Lake had an algae problem, something The Northwest Missourian reported on as early as January 2018 and something that has somehow gone unfixed in the meantime.

Back then, The Missourian reported, the city tinkered with the chemical levels used in Maryville’s drinking water while the City Council looked at long-term solutions. PeopleService Inc. Steve Guthrie said then that the situation was “a curveball from mother nature.” City Manager Greg McDanel said the algae bloom, which has had a negative effect on the taste of the city’s drinking water, “must be treated chemically.”

Two years later, the issue persists. While Maryville citizens have been drinking water that one resident, Kyle Ponder, told The Missourian “tastes like dirt,” the city has sat on its hands.

McDanel, the apparent champion of the water issue both then and now, displayed a 20-minute presentation at Maryville’s City Council meeting Jan. 27, pitching long-term solutions to a council that should have acted more broadly two years ago, stressing the importance of a budget that could have already been set aside. He noted, through several slides and data-filled graphs, that the chemical treatment — the same one he touted two years ago — has been ineffective.

McDanel has continued to stress that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources declared Maryville’s drinking water safe, saying it has never fallen below the minimum standards for drinking water. And that appears to be the new bar for Maryville — the minimum standard.

Several times over the last few weeks, as McDanel has re-engaged with the issue, the city manager has talked up the water’s odor and taste — perhaps the only two things residents care about beyond assured quality — as generally trivial concerns, footnotes that flow through more than 10,000 people’s showerheads every day.

“Even if the lake were to release toxins, we were advised that it wouldn’t be enough to get through the ventilation process,” McDanel said. “The lake has experienced issues over the past several years with this kind of aesthetic issue with odor and taste. We are working to improve.”

Despite his misuse of the word “aesthetic,” McDanel has not been the only city official to drop the ball on this issue while the city waits impatiently and the mayor signs his check. Public Works Director C.E. Goodall bragged to the city council about the city’s overuse of a membrane filter at Mozingo, a filter designed to last seven years but in its ninth year of operation.

“We’ve done really well this time getting a little extra out of it than what they tell us we can,” Goodall said at a city council meeting.

It’s not clear if the membrane’s expiration has any effect on the apparently-aesthetic issues in Maryville’s water supply, but the instance does underline the greater problem with the city’s approach over the last two years, which is the use of a Band-Aid approach in attempting to fix a problem that affects 11,757 residents.

The biggest aesthetic issue in Maryville is the look that comes with city officials admitting to leaning on expired filters and scapegoating problems that could have been tackled in 2018.

“In hindsight, this is something that should have been started with the development of the lake and been made a top priority,” McDanel said. “But as a lake ages and nutrient levels change, this is a definite priority for us moving forward.”

The latest commitment to progress feels empty in the wake of the renewed algae bloom. The city has neglected citizens and cyanotoxins, waiting too long to do too little, finally prioritizing a concern it should have two years ago.

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