DNR: Paint dye poured into storm drain turned ditch water red

By: - September 20, 2023 4:19 pm

Ditch water in Clive turned red from paint dye that a worker at a home improvement store poured into a stormwater drain. (Photo courtesy of Iowa DNR)

An employee of a West Des Moines home improvement store errantly poured a mixture of water and paint dye down a stormwater drain and caused ditch water in Clive to turn red, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR recently fined Home Depot $5,500 for the incident, which happened Oct. 26, 2021.

A worker at its store at 1700 36th St. — which is near the two cities’ border — dumped about a half gallon of the dye mixture into a floor drain in the store’s garden center. The store typically treats paint products as hazardous substances for disposal.

The dye accounted for about one-seventh of the mixture, said Jeff Theobald, an environmental specialist for the DNR who investigated the situation.

“It wasn’t much, but it went far away and was still bright red,” he said. “It had a lot of potency.”

The dye mixture flowed underground more than a quarter mile until it reached an outlet near Northwest 100th Street in Clive, just north of University Avenue. From there, it flowed into a drainage ditch in a residential area that goes for about a half mile to Walnut Creek.

Some of the dye likely reached the creek, but it did not have any obvious environmental impact, Theobald said. The dye wasn’t toxic.

But Iowa law prohibits discharges of wastewater with “objectional color, odor or other aesthetically objectional conditions.”

City and Home Depot employees worked to stem the flow of dye with mulch and, later, to flush it from the stormwater sewer. The next day, heavy rainfall of about 7 inches flushed the ditch, Theobald said.

Home Depot kept absorbent pads in the area for at least a week and power washed four culverts to clean them.

The company agreed to pay the fine and to train the employees of the store to avoid polluting stormwater.

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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.