Company fined for sewage discharge near drinking water source

By: - April 15, 2022 4:06 pm

Partially treated municipal wastewater flowed into a creek near Ottumwa in July 2021. (Photo by Jeffrey Thomann/Iowa DNR)

An Ottumwa company will pay $5,500 for releasing thousands of gallons of municipal wastewater into a rural area with a drain that leads directly to underground tile lines. The wastewater flowed into a ditch and creek that feed the Des Moines River, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR received a report in July 2021 that a ditch about six miles northwest of Ottumwa had black fluid flowing through it. DNR investigators traced the contamination to the nearby location of Ecosystems, Inc., a business that hauls wastewater and sludge from other businesses and municipalities and applies it to farmland.

Jeffrey Klodt, who manages Ecosystems, said six semitrailer truckloads of partially treated wastewater from the city of Osceola had been hauled to the property that day, according to a recent DNR administrative order.

Those trucks had the capacity to haul a total of about 48,000 gallons of wastewater, but the DNR was unable to determine how much had been released, said Jeffrey Thomann, a DNR environmental specialist who investigated the release. Four more trucks with wastewater were en route to the property when Thomann arrived and intervened.

“I have no idea why it happened,” Thomann said of the wastewater discharge. “One of them had mentioned that there was a hairball in the end of the valve, and they were trying to clean the valve out.”

He said no one admitted to deliberately releasing the wastewater, and no one alerted the DNR to the release before someone saw the black liquid in the ditch. Klodt could not be reached to comment for this article.

The wastewater went into South Avery Creek, which flows into the Des Moines River upstream from where Ottumwa draws drinking water from the river for its 25,500 residents. Thomann said the wastewater had no known effect on that drinking water. The area had been inundated with about 5 inches of rain the night before the discharge, so the creek was brimming with stormwater that diluted the wastewater, he said. There was no apparent fish kill caused by the discharge.

Ecosystems agreed to pay a $5,500 fine to settle the issue, the DNR order said.

“Dumping sewage sludge in violation of (Iowa law) provided significant economic benefit by saving time, manpower, fuel and equipment use/expense,” the order 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.