Elk River Basin - Non-Agricultural Activities
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Wastewater Treatment Plants | Septic Systems | Riparian Vegetation | Stormwater Runoff Gravel Mining | ErosionLandfills | All Terrain Vehicles

Harmful Bacteria in the Water | Mines

Wastewater Treatment Plants -- City sewage treatment facilities, industries, apartment complexes, mobile home parks, and subdivisions have permits to release treated wastewater into streams.   There are many sewage treatment plants in the Elk River Basin. Sewage treatment plants take wastewater and treat it to make it less harmful to the river or stream in which it is released. If your house is connected to a sewer, the water that leaves your house when you flush your toilet, take a shower, etc. travels in pipes to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.   The city’s treatment facility treats the water to remove chemicals and bacteria and releases the water into a stream.

Wastewater treatment plants in Anderson, Goodman, Neosho, Pineville, and Wheaton, MO, were sited by the MoDNR in 1996 as causes for water quality concern.

For a map of permitted wastewater treatment facilities in the Elk River Basin, visit http://mdc.mo.gov/fish/watershed/elk/watqual/010wqf16.htm.

Septic Systems -- If your house is not connected to the sewer, then the wastewater from your house goes into a septic tank located under the ground in your yard or surrounding land.   The wastewater in a septic tank must be pumped out every 3 years or it could overflow and leach into the surrounding soil and potentially run into the groundwater.

There are nearly 60,000 septic tanks in southwest Missouri .  

Since many septic tanks were installed years ago before permits were required for their installation, there is no record of exactly how many septic tanks lie underground across the Ozarks. Most counties in the Elk River Basin began to issue permits for septic tanks in 1996. From 1996 to March 2004, Barry County permitted 1,678 septic tanks. In Newton County , there are an estimated 3,000 permitted septic tanks, with an average of 350 septic tanks permitted per year since the permitting program began in 1996.   Since 1998, McDonald County , MO , has permitted 1,552 new septic tanks. It is estimated that there are thousands of septic tanks in addition to these numbers that were constructed before permits were required for their installation.   County health departments typically have information on septic tanks for their county.

Shrub swamp photoRiparian Vegetation -- Plants along a river banks are called “riparian vegetation”.   These plants slow the flow of runoff into streams, which reduces erosion on stream banks. Riparian vegetation also allows more water to infiltrate the soil before entering the stream, filtering pollutants out of the runoff before entering the stream. (Image source)



Stormwater Runoff -- Since the majority of the Elk River Basin is located in a minimally populated area, most of the urban runoff within the watershed comes from larger communities located on the outskirts of the basin. Most of the water quality problems due to urbanization in the Elk River Basin are attributed to runoff from communities within the Little Sugar Creek sub-basin. These communities include Bentonville and Bella Vista, Arkansas. In 1990, these two cities had a combined population of 21,240 people, more than the entire population of McDonald County (16,938 people). Bella Vista, Arkansas, is mostly a retirement community supporting at least seven golf courses.   Fertilizers, containing nutrients like phosphorous, pesticides, and herbicides used on golf courses and lawns can be washed into nearby streams following a rainstorm. Some lakes in Bella Vista are also fertilized to increase populations of sportfish.   Increased urban growth and population in northwest Arkansas could cause future stress on the Little Sugar Creek sub-basin and the larger Elk River Basin.
Gravel Mining -- When rushing water flows over the rocks in a stream, the rocks are slowly worn away.   After a long time, pebbles and gravel are formed from larger rocks. If the stream is really old, sand will form from the constant running of the water across the rock’s surface.   In the past 150 years in Missouri , the amount of gravel and sand has increased in streams.   When land was cleared for farms and towns, plants were removed from the land around a stream. This caused the amount of water that runs off the land after a rain to increase, leading to more erosion in the stream. The reduction in vegetation can also cause the speed of runoff to increase, which can serve to shape more gravel and sand in the streambed.

Gravel is required to construct roads, sidewalks, and gardens.   When people get gravel from a dry streambed, this is called gravel mining.   Sometimes gravel removal from a stream is done incorrectly and causes harm to the flow of the stream and the habitat of the plants and animals living in the stream.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) work to teach cities, businesses, and landowners the proper way to remove gravel from a stream. Many times, people wanting to remove gravel from a stream must have a permit to remove gravel from the stream.

Some rules that MDC gives for removing gravel from a stream are:

  • Do not drive trucks or heavy equipment like bulldozers in the stream.   This will cause more erosion.

  • Do not remove gravel from the stream between March 15th and June 15th.   This is the time that fish are reproducing.

  • Do not wash the gravel that has been removed in the stream.

  • Plant trees and other riparian vegetation along the stream bank.   This will stabilize the stream bank.

Gravel Mining in the Elk River Basin :

Reports by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in 1976 indicate that gravel mining was the cause for increased turbidity in Indian Creek. The Big Sugar Creek sub-basin near Pea Ridge, AR, sites on the Little Sugar Creek near Bella Vista, AR, and the Elk River south of Pineville, MO have undergone extensive channelization*. The Little Sugar Creek sub-basin experiences most gravel mining of the sub-basins of the Elk River system.

*channelization: modification of the shape and direction of flow within streambeds.

 For a map of areas affected by channelization in the Elk River Basin , visit http://www.conservation.mo.gov/fish/watershed/elk/habitat/010hcf18.htm

See the table located under the “Mines” section for a list of sand and gravel operations in the Elk River Basin.

Erosion -- When soil on the bank of a river falls off of the bank and into the river, this is called erosion. This is a natural process that occurs when a stream meanders from bank to bank. However, this process is accelerated by human land use.

Reports from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in 1985 showed that erosion was not a severe problem in the Elk River Basin .

For more information on erosion in the Elk River Basin , visit http://mdc.mo.gov/fish/watershed/elk/watqual/010wqtxt.htm.

For information about landuse, nonpoint source, point source, visit: http://mdc.mo.gov/fish/watershed/elk/watqual/010wqtxt.htm

(Image source)

Landfills -- The Newton-McDonald county landfill is located within the Elk River Basin but is no longer accepting additional trash. The landfill closed in about 1995. In a 1996 report by MDNR, the landfill was cited as having sludge and erosion problems which were a cause of concern for water quality.

There are currently no operating landfills in either Newton or McDonald counties in Missouri .   Trash from communities in this area, that is collected by local sanitation businesses, is taken to landfills in either Lamar, MO, or southeastern Kansas .  

Landfills can be a water quality concern if the lining of the landfill is breached by runoff from the overlying wastes. This water can leach into the groundwater, eventually reaching area lakes and streams.  

Links to articles about the Newton-McDonald County landfill can be accessed at

All Terrain Vehicles -- Riding all-terrain vehicles, such as four-wheelers or three-wheelers, through a stream can be harmful to the water quality and habitat of a stream.   ATVs, when ridden along the banks of a river or stream, can increase the rate of erosion by removing stabilizing vegetation and by directly removing soil from the banks. In addition, disturbance of the gravel on the river bottom can eliminate habitat for small animals such as insect larvae and mussels that use the spaces between pebbles as a refuge.   Insect larvae serve as food for larger animals, and elimination of their habitat can have effects that are felt higher up in the food chain.

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Missouri Department
of Natural Resources

Missouri Watershed Information Network (MoWIN)
Send comments to: mowin1@missouri.edu
205 Agricultural Engineering
Columbia, MO 65211
Phone: (573) 882-0085
Toll Free: (MO only): 1-877-H20-shed (426-7433)
Fax: (573) 884-5650

Page last updated August 26, 2008