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Northwest Iowa Town Faces Oil Spill Aftermath As Flooding Continues

flood rock valley
City of Rock Valley
Flooding in Rock Valley, Iowa on June 23, 2018.

Heavy rain continued to fall Monday morning on areas of northwest Iowa already soaked by storms over the weekend. In the far northwest corner of the state, an oil spill is complicating matters.

On Friday, 32 rail cars derailed in Lyon County and spilled an estimated 230,000 gallons of crude oil into the Little Rock River.

Rock Valley City Administrator Tom Van Maanen said his community, which is downstream from the oil spill, is concerned about the oil that escaped containment efforts.

“We had them test at our outdoor sports complex, the fields, the school, the playground, and the city’s campground to test if there was any contamination in the soil,” Van Maanen said. “And those preliminary tests indicated at this time there was not.” 

He said city wells are shut off and being tested. Rock Valley residents are tied into a rural water system for now.

A press release from BNSF Railway says the company is “containing spilled oil with booms and recovering it with skimmers and vacuum trucks.”

Van Maanen also said about 80 people were evacuated from their homes because of flooding, but the evacuation order was lifted Monday.

“Four years later, we’re experiencing another 100-year flood,” Van Maanen said, referring to a 2014 major flood event in the town of about 3,700.

He added with more rain forecast for Monday, he’s concerned about the capacity of the city’s storm sewer system.

The National Weather Service posted a flash flood watch for northwest Iowa lasting through Monday evening.

On Monday morning, American Red Cross in Iowa spokesman Mark Tauscheck said the organization distributed more than 1,300 flood clean-up kits to home and business owners in 12 northwest Iowa counties.

“I think there are a few areas up in Sioux County that again got 4 to 8 inches of rain, and so that’s on top of what fell late last week that caused all of the problems in the first place,” Tauscheck said.

He said at least 91 communities have been affected by flood water, and his agency is watching conditions downriver from the flooding in places like Perry and Adel.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter