Wastewater leaks into creek that feeds Creston lake

By: - April 13, 2022 4:50 pm

Creston has sought to rehabilitate its Hurley Creek for years. Volunteers took part in a cleanup day there about a decade ago. (Photo from Iowa DNR report)

The bank of a Creston creek collapsed and severed a sewer line on Tuesday, which spilled untreated wastewater into the creek for about four hours until city workers were able to repair it, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The leak was reported about 1:20 p.m. in the southwest Iowa town of about 7,500 people.

Hurley Creek wends through much of the north and west sides of town and has been the subject of ongoing restoration efforts to stabilize its banks and improve its water quality, according to state records.

The creek flows into McKinley Lake, which was created about 150 years ago by damming the creek, according to the Creston Chamber of Commerce. The lake was initially a source of water and ice for the town, but the area soon became a public attraction that included a zoo with bears, elk, wolves and exotic birds, among other creatures.

The city later bought the area and drained the lake but rebuilt it and developed a public park over decades. In the 1950s, the park again hosted a caged bear, the chamber said.

In addition to contemporary efforts to reduce erosion and pollution in the creek, city residents approved a $2 million bond referendum last year to help restore the 50-acre lake by deepening it and stabilizing its shoreline, among other work, according to a DNR report. The project is expected to be finished in five to 10 years.

The wastewater leak in the creek happened Tuesday about a mile upstream of the lake, the DNR reported, although the precise time of the pipe break was unclear. A shift of the soil likely caused the cast-iron pipe to come apart, said Dan Olson, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR.

The pipe was originally constructed under the creek bed but had been exposed by erosion over the years, he said. About five gallons of sewage was flowing into the creek each minute.

The repair was straightforward, but the creek bed was difficult terrain and severe weather loomed for much of the state later that afternoon and evening.

“The city is working to quickly repair the broken line but may not be able to complete the work before this evening,” the DNR said in its afternoon warning to avoid the creek for at least a day because of the pollution.

But Jim Bristow, the city’s wastewater superintendent, and his crew replaced the damaged section of the pipe in a little more than four hours. They rented an excavator to expedite the work.

“Anytime we have any kind of discharge we respond accordingly, regardless of what the circumstances are,” Bristow said.

An estimated 1,275 gallons of sewage leaked into the creek, which Olson doubted would have much of an impact on the lake. Bristow said about three-quarters of an inch of rain fell that night and helped dilute the wastewater.

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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. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.