State of Iowa

Citizens’ Aide/Ombudsman

August 18,1998

 RE: Investigative Report 98-1

Iowa Department of Natural Resources

DES MOINES — The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) failed to meet its duties under law in responding to complaints about sewage entering a stream, according to a report released today by Citizens’ Aide/Ombudsman Bill Angrick.

The report concerns DNR’s response to complaints about sewage from a 33-home subdivision just north of Oskaloosa.  DNR found each home had a septic tank that connected into a series of underground lines feeding into an unnamed tributary to the South Skunk River.

The Ombudsman determined DNR was required by Iowa law to regulate the situation and should not have deferred its responsibility to the Mahaska County Sanitarian.  The Ombudsman found DNR should have been more involved in getting the subdivision into compliance sooner.  The overall problem was not resolved for over three years after it was first reported to DNR.

DNR indicated the case represents how it handles similar situations.  “This suggests the problems identified in this report are not unique — that DNR may have systemic failure in how it responds to violations involving sewage discharges into surface waters,” the Ombudsman said.  “DNR acknowledges other communities and subdivisions may be discharging sewage into surface waters but doesn’t know how many.”

According to the report, an official with the State Health Department said sewage from communities without a central sewer system is a greater threat to public health than large-scale animal feeding operations, which have been the subject of intense debate the past few years. DNR replied it has no plan for addressing the issue of sewage from communities with no central sewer system.

Angrick’s report has eight recommendations for DNR’s Environmental Protection Division.  Included is a recommendation to arrange for the inspection of unsewered communities and subdivisions to determine how many are in violation of the law, particularly the prohibition against discharges to a water of the state without a permit from DNR.

In his response to the report, DNR Director Larry Wilson defended the agency’s performance and disputes a number of the Ombudsman’s findings and recommendations.  “Resolution of a problem of this nature within three years is a relative success story, given our workload, resources, and other mandated priorities,” Wilson wrote.  A copy of his unedited reply is appended to the report.

Copies of the report can be obtained from the Ombudsman’s office, which can investigate complaints about most agencies of state and local government.  Iowans can call the office toll-free at 1-888-IA-OMBUD (426-6283) or at (515) 281-3592.  The office has a TTY which can be reached using the toll-free number or at (515) 242-5065.  Its fax number is (515) 242-6007.  Internet users can contact the office at:

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Last updated: Wednesday, October 18, 2000