DNR fines Conesville for wastewater mismanagement

By: - February 4, 2022 1:21 pm

Conesville uses lagoons to treat its wastewater and discharges into nearby Honey Creek. (Screenshot from Google Maps)

The city of Conesville, with a population of about 350 in southeast Iowa, has repeatedly failed to properly monitor and manage its wastewater in the past seven years and will pay a fine of about $2,500 to the state, according to an agreement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Conesville treats its wastewater with three lagoons that were constructed about a decade ago. It’s required to do regular sampling and limit its discharges into nearby Honey Creek — which feeds the Iowa River — to certain times of the year when natural water flow is higher and the discharges have a lesser impact on the environment.

DNR staff have issued several violation notices to the city since 2017 for failing to test the wastewater and report when it discharges into the creek.

“The mayor was doing the sampling, doing all the testing, which is fine as long as someone who is certified signed off on it,” said Terry Jones, an environmental specialist for the DNR.

The city doesn’t employ a certified operator but has paid one in the area to review the reports as required by law, with the exception of a recent three-month period.

The DNR has sought to nudge the city into compliance over the years, in part because the town is small and the testing that had been done revealed few issues with the status of the wastewater, Jones said.

But the lack of management culminated in an emergency discharge into the creek in July 2021 — which was outside of the permissible window for such discharges — because the lagoons were full.

A test at the time revealed that the amount of solid material in the discharged water was more than four times higher than what is allowed by the city’s permit, Jones said. He was unsure what environmental impact that might have had on the creek.

The city has agreed to pay the fine and comply with the requirements of its permit.

“They’ve had some significant operational issues that need to be addressed,” Jones said.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.