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Sewer Line Break Sends Untreated Wastewater Into Little Sioux River

Clay Masters
IPR file
Iowa DNR officials say they have to wait until reiver levels drop low enough for them to determine the cause of the cause of the sewer line break.

Tens of thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater are flowing into the Little Sioux River in northwest Iowa, resulting from a broken sewer line in Cherokee County.
The city of Quimby reported the break in the sewer line under the river Monday morning. Because of flooding, the city’s wastewater operator can’t even get near the area, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources said in a news release. The DNR estimates 15,000 to 20,000 gallons of untreated wastewater is going into the river every day.

The Little Sioux River at Cherokee was recorded at roughly 19.4 feet high, more than 2 feet above minor flood stage, shortly after noon Tuesday. The river recently crested .3 inches below moderate flood stage of 21 feet. Iowa DNR Environmental Specialist Senior Julie Sievers said officials have to wait until river levels drop low enough for them to determine the cause of the break.

“With floodwaters it’s hard to know whether it was erosion of the bank, if it was debris going downstream that caught it, pulled it apart,” Sievers said. “We simply won’t know until [the city is] able to determine what happened and what part of the pipe has had a problem.”

Sievers says the environmental impacts should be minor. The large amount of water recent rains brought to the river is diluting the wastewater. People have not been recreating on the river recently because of the river levels, she said.

The DNR is exploring possible temporary solutions with the city’s wastewater operator, but the details are still being worked out, Sievers said.

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Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.