by Mary Stroka
The state of Iowa on Friday sued the city of Sioux City regarding discharge of wastewater.
In the lawsuit, the state asks the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County to make the city pay up to $5,000 per day of violations of state wastewater treatment regulations (Iowa Code section 455B.186(1), 567 Iowa Admin. Code 64.3(1)) and the city’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. It seeks a permanent injunction preventing Sioux City from further violations of these state laws and the treatment permit requirements.
The state said that for periods between March 15, 2012, and June 8, 2015, Sioux City’s treatment facility would only properly disinfect water discharges on days it collected and submitted samples for E. coli contamination to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the lawsuit said.
“At the same time the fraudulent testing procedure was utilized, the City was touting the effectiveness of the WWTF’s system to the IDNR in an attempt to convince the IDNR to re-rate the WWTF to increase its treatment capacity, which would allow the City to recruit more business and industry with high-strength wastewater,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said following Sioux City exceeding daily maximum total residual chlorine concentration limits and mass limits in several instances from 2017 to 2019, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued a compliance schedule as part of the city’s current permit, requiring more stringent total residual chlorine effluent limits by December 2023.
“The city potentially endangered human lives and wildlife by violating water-quality rules and perpetrating a fraud to conceal its employees’ actions,” Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who filed the lawsuit in Woodbury County on behalf of the state and the DNR, said in a news release.
The lawsuit said Sioux City continues to have difficulty meeting current total residual limit requirements. Sioux City exceeded limits in March, May and June 2021, the lawsuit said.
In 2021, former Sioux City wastewater treatment facility employee Jay Niday was sentenced to three months in prison and two years supervised release, the lawsuit petition said. Former facility employee Pat Schwarte was sentenced to two years’ probation in 2020.
Grefe & Sidney’s litigation division senior member Guy Cook told The Center Square in a phone interview Friday that Sioux City fired Niday and Schwarte and that the city has taken and continues to take appropriate remedial action to improve the wastewater treatment plant. It has ensured the “rogue action” of Mr. Niday and Mr. Schwarte never happens again, he said.
“There was no scheming by the city of Sioux City. … It’s unfortunate that the state is taking this action without the opportunity for resolution between these two government entities,” he said.
Sioux City has dedicated millions of dollars of American Rescue Plan funding and approved construction of a UV disinfection system to improve the wastewater facility’s work, he said.
He said the assistant city manager and wastewater treatment ddirector notified the Iowa DNR about the “rogue conduct” and that there is no evidence indicating people or wildlife were in danger.
Sioux City’s wastewater treatment facility is designed to discharge final treated product from Sioux City, Sergeant Bluff, South Sioux City in Nebraska, and North Sioux City and Dakota Dunes in South Dakota into the Missouri River, the petition said.
Sioux City’s community water system is separate from its wastewater treatment department. The Iowa Department of Public Health announced in a Jan. 7 news release that Sioux City Water Department was among 1,292 public water systems in 29 states to receive the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Water Fluoridation Quality Award for maintaining consistent level of fluoride in drinking water throughout 2020.
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Mary Stroka is a contributor to The Center Square.
Photo “Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller” by Iowa Department of Justice – Office of the Attorney General. Background Photo “Wastewater Treatment Plant” by KOMUnews. CC BY 2.0.