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Council Bluffs is discharging untreated wastewater into Missouri River

By: - November 14, 2023 5:07 pm

The Missouri River is expected to absorb the wastewater discharge with little effect. (Photo courtesy of Iowa DNR)

A western Iowa city will divert millions of gallons of untreated wastewater into the Missouri River for up to 10 days as it works to repair a broken sewer line, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The damaged sewer main in Council Bluffs was recently discovered when someone noticed wet soil in an area that was otherwise dry near Interstate Highway 80, said Wendy Wittrock, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR. It’s not yet clear what might have caused the leak.

The city began discharging wastewater into the river early Tuesday morning at a rate of about 4 million gallons per day.

The DNR has advised people to avoid the river downstream until the sewer line is repaired, but Wittrock said the effects of the wastewater on the river should be negligible. The Missouri is flowing at a rate of about 4 million gallons every 15 seconds, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

Council Bluffs is Iowa’s 10th-largest city with about 62,000 people. The wastewater being released into the river is a little more than half of the amount the city processes each day at its Water Pollution Control Plant, according to the city’s website.

A spokesperson for the city did not immediately respond to a request to comment for this article.

There was no other feasible option to store or dispose of the wastewater during the repair work, Wittrock said. There are no downstream cities in Iowa or Nebraska that use the river as a source of drinking water, she 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.