Sioux City officials are facing penalties for releasing improperly treated sewage that contained E. coli bacteria into the Missouri River. The illegal discharges from the Sioux City Wastewater Treatment Plant took place between March 2012 and June 2015. The Iowa Sierra Club wants federal authorities to file criminal charges against the men responsible, because the Iowa DNR says that criminal charges are not warranted
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources wants the state’s Attorney General Tom Miller to file civil suit against the city. Allegedly, twelve federal provisions, seven Iowa codes, and one Iowa code provision were violated. the DNR received a tip in April 2016 that the city was operating the disinfection system for wastewater in violation of the National Pollutant Discharge Eliminating System permit. The DNR received a tip from an anonymous whistleblower on April 21, 2015 about the situation.
Two employees of the plant, Pat Schwarte, the shift operator, and Jay Niday, the plant’s operator-in-charge, admitted that they increased chlorine and bisulfate doses to the water on the days that the water was sampled for E. coli bacteria, then decreasing those disinfectants. The law states that they were supposed to use 16 to 17 gallons of chlorine per hour every day to treat the water (some news outlets say that 20 to 25 gallons per hour are required).
On testing days to have their permit renewed, they allegedly used 90 gallons of chlorine, but only three gallons the rest of the time. Debbie Neustadt, Chair of the Water Committee for the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club said in a statement, “it is very disappointing to hear about the behavior of these employees. Iowans have a child-life belief that sewage treatment plant operators are following the rules and protecting the public.”
Both Schwarte and Niday have permanently surrendered their wastewater operator certifications, entering a consent order with the DNR. At least four other city employees, who were not identified, also tampered with the test results. They said they were told to do so by Niday and Schwarte. Both men have been fired by the city.
The Missouri River is frequented by swimmers, boaters, and other people seeking summer and winter fun. E. coli bacteria can cause serious illness, with symptoms ranging from watery or bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, and vomiting, to loss of kidney function and death.