Settlement Reached: A Big Victory for the Big River

Cedar Mill at Big River, Public Domain Image

When properly cared for, Missouri’s Big River and its tributaries are home to a rich aquatic life, including a diverse range of fish and invertebrates.

Good clean mud. No sewage here please!

The 145-mile long Big River also provides respite for Missourians looking to fish and swim in Washington, Saint Francois, and Jefferson counties. On any given day, you may see local residents fishing, sunbathing, or enjoying water sports in the river.

So when we learned that Byrnes Mill Farms – an 80-acre mobile home park – repeatedly discharged ammonia, E.coli, and other dangerous toxins into the river, we knew we wanted to step in to protect one of the state’s treasured water sources.

“Byrnes Mill Farms’ actions presented a dramatic and direct threat to the river’s livelihood. Its offloading of harmful pollutants would drastically degrade the river’s quality, harming its diverse ecosystem and affecting the public’s ability to safely fish, swim, and enjoy the river.”

Representing our client Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper – a grassroots organization that aims to protect and monitor water quality in Missouri –  we brought a lawsuit against Byrnes Mill Farms in January 2020. The lawsuit highlighted the defendant’s violations of the Clean Water Act and its failures to operate its pollution control equipment, monitor and report its pollutant discharges, and obey their discharge permit.

The complaint noted the varied activities that Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper members enjoy at the Big River, including canoeing, boating, kayaking, wildlife observation, and more.

“The public has recreational, spiritual, professional and aesthetic ties to Missouri’s waters, including the Big River,” said Bob Menees, Great Rivers’ lead attorney on the case. “Protecting and restoring Missouri’s waters benefits everyone.”

Members of a local stream team clean up the Big River. As a result of the settlement, the organizer of this event – the Open Space Council – will receive funding for further restoration projects of the Big River.

Now, just a few months later, we have secured an outcome which will remedy this dirty problem and protect the people and wildlife who use the river. The defendant has agreed to allow the local sewer district to assume control of the lagoon, connecting it to a central swerve system to eliminate the facility’s pollution. Our efforts have also resulted in $5,000 allocated to the conservation nonprofit Open Space Council, which will do restoration and clean up work in the Big River.

In the settlement, we were also able to ensure that these legal services were provided to Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper at no cost to them.

For seventeen years, we have offered free and reduced-fee legal services to individuals and organizations fighting for environmental and public health. Our Water Quality Program is just one of Great Rivers’ six areas of focus. As Missouri’s first and only public interest law firm focused on the environment and public health, we also run programs in Climate and Energy, Environmental Justice, Air Quality and Public Health, Land Use, and Wetlands and Floodplains.

Each of our programs helps individuals and organizations devoted to protecting the environment navigate the courts and administrative agencies, enforce environmental laws, and fight for environmental justice.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free and reduced-fee services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.

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