Rural restaurant fined for failing to report water tests

By: - August 15, 2022 1:07 pm

Newt's Café has failed to report the results of daily drinking water tests for months, the DNR says. (Photo by Greg Boll/Special to Iowa Capital Dispatch)

An eastern Iowa restaurant that uses a very shallow well that is highly susceptible to contamination has failed for months to report the daily test results of the water it serves its customers, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Newt’s Café, in Nichols, avoided a fine from the department in February for its repeated testing failures over many years by agreeing to hire a certified operator to ensure its treatment system is functioning properly and to comply with the state’s testing requirements going forward, DNR documents show.

Nichols, a town of about 340 people southeast of Iowa City, has no municipal water supply. Instead almost all the homes and businesses have their own shallow wells from which to draw water, and that groundwater has been contaminated by farm fertilizers for decades.

The restaurant uses a reverse osmosis system to remove nitrate from its drinking water, according to a recent DNR administrative order. A certified operator had examined the system informally until March, when the restaurant failed to officially obtain an agreement with the operator, who then notified the DNR “that he was no longer interested in working for Newt’s Café and would no longer be offering his services,” the order said.

Further, the restaurant has not submitted monthly reports to the DNR that show the results of daily, on-site tests of the water from February to June, the order said.

However, state data show that the café submitted monthly samples to the State Hygienic Lab for those months, and none of the tests revealed nitrate concentrations in excess of the maximum allowed, which is 10 parts per million.

The highest recent test had a concentration of 2.6 parts per million in May. Other tests in past months showed concentrations of 1 part per million or less.

Those who consume higher amounts of nitrate can have a diminished amount of oxygen in their blood. Infants are most susceptible to serious health consequences.

The DNR sent a notice of violation to the café in March and tried to contact owner Roxann Hostetler in April to get the café into compliance with state requirements. As of early this month, Hostetler had not responded, the DNR order said.

The DNR fined the café $1,500 and ordered it to hire a certified operator and comply with testing requirements. Hostetler has 30 days to appeal the order.

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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.

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