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Heavy Rains Wash Waste Directly Into Iowa Waterways

Clay Masters
IPR file

Dozens of communities released untreated water into rivers and streams over the past week after heavy rain fell across the state. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, more than 70 cases of flood water bypassing wastewater treatment centers have been reported since Thursday and more are expected from this week’s deluge.

Some parts of Iowa have received more than nine inches of rain in May alone. In communities with out-of-date sewers and storm drains, that’s more water than their systems are able to handle.

“The pipes were designed to handle only wastewater,” said DNR environmental program supervisor Ted Petersen. “So when you start adding in additional volumes of clear water, this rain water, there’s just not enough room for the wastewater and rainwater to flow.”

Petersen said when floods bypass a community’s treatment system the water ends up carrying raw sewage, bacteria and a host of household chemicals. He said that’s why officials always warn people to stay out of flood waters, if they can help it.

Besides city sewers, the DNR said some livestock feedlots have reported manure spills. The DNR said manure discharges are allowed in cases of extreme weather at large, open facilities like cattle feedlots, but not from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), like hog barns.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa