DNR warns of increased bacteria in Iowa River near Eldora

By: - June 1, 2022 10:58 am

The city of Eldora’s wastewater treatment plant is discharging higher levels of bacteria while it fixes a pipe. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Falls Times Citizen)

The city of Eldora in north-central Iowa is releasing hundreds of thousands of gallons of partially treated wastewater into the Iowa River each day while it repairs a damaged pipe, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The leak was identified Tuesday when someone noticed some ground between the wastewater treatment plant and the river was soggier than it ought to be. An outflow pipe from the plant to the river goes through that area.

“What was coming out of the line was what would have been normally discharged to the river, it just wasn’t all making it there,” said Sheila Bly, a DNR environmental specialist.

To repair the leak, Eldora switched to a different outflow pipe that bypasses the city’s ultraviolet disinfectant system, which is used to kill harmful bacteria from March to November when people are most likely to have recreational contact with the river.

That segment of the Iowa River is on the state’s impaired waters list because of its elevated levels of bacteria, which can cause skin irritation and infection.

The wastewater treatment plant discharged an average of about 500,000 gallons per day in a recent month, Bly said. Documentation related to the city’s most-recent permit to discharge into the river showed it averaged more than 700,000 gallons per day in 2019.

Workers will repair the leaky pipe after the soil around it is sufficiently dry, Bly said, which could take days.

“We just want to warn people and pets to stay out of the area, avoid contact if possible,” Bly said.

The treatment plant is on the southeast side of town and discharges into the river near the 14th Avenue bridge. The DNR said people should avoid the area downstream of the bridge until one or two days after the repair is complete.

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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.