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State sues Sioux City over misleading water pollution tests, wastewater treatment violations

Katie Peikes
IPR file
The lawsuit claims the city violated wastewater treatment requirements for three years.

The state of Iowa is suing Sioux City for misleading state officials regarding water pollution test results.

The lawsuit claims the city’s wastewater treatment facilities only disinfected water when they knew samples would be taken by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The state is asking the court to award $5,000 for each day the plants violated water quality rules. They allege the practice continued for about three years, from March of 2012 to June of 2015.

“The city potentially endangered human lives and wildlife by violating water-quality rules and perpetrating a fraud to conceal its employee’s actions,” said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

The lawsuit also seeks a permanent injunction preventing the city from further violating state water quality laws. According to the lawsuit, the city continues to defy permit limits for ammonia and chlorine levels.

The wastewater treatment plant’s former superintendent and supervisor have already been sentenced for falsifying test results, facing fines of upward of $5,000 and several months in prison.

The document suggests city treatment management and other city officials discovered the treatment facility was not working properly, but chose not to disclose it to the DNR. Instead they began conducting fraudulent tests.

“Cheating on required environmental tests gave the city an unfair advantage in this competition to attract business and industry among other municipalities,” the lawsuit alleges.

A federal investigation of the plant began in 2016. The lawsuit claims the plant has continued to violate water quality expectations, discharging excessive amounts of chlorine as recently as August 2021.

Kendall was Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA until Jan. 20, 2023.