Mar 29, 2022

2 Million Gallons of Untreated Wastewater Spill Into Des Moines River

The flow through the pipe was repaired within the hour, but then a pump station several blocks away overflowed into the river

des moines river

A wastewater pipe break near Birdland Park in Des Moines, Iowa, caused approximately 2 million gallons of untreated wastewater to leak into the Des Moines River on Mar. 22, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The break was discovered in the underground, pressurized pipe at about 9:45 a.m. Mar. 22, reported Iowa Capital Dispatch. The leak happened downstream from a Des Moines Water Works intake, so the metro area’s drinking water was not impacted.

“When that pipe split, it was like a water main break, so it shot water out of the ground,” said Tom Atkinson, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR, reported Iowa Capital Dispatch.

The flow through the pipe was repaired within the hour, according to Atkinson, but then a pump station several blocks away overflowed into the river until about 9:15 p.m., at which point the pipe was then repaired.

The station has an overflow pipe that discharges directly into the Des Moines River, of which an estimated 3,500 gallons of diluted wastewater flows through each minute, reported Iowa Capital Dispatch.

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A murky plume formed in the river north of downtown Des Moines, according to Atkinson, but he did not notice any dead fish or severe damage because the river is so big, reported Iowa Capital Dispatch.

DNR still advised people who had contact with the river Mar. 22 to wash their hands and any fish they caught.

Des Moines has combined sewer systems, transporting wastewater and storm water runoff in the same pipes, making them prone to leaking untreated wastewater into waterways when an influx of storm water overwhelms their capacities.

However, according to Atkinson, excessive storm water was not the cause of the leak near Birdland Park since the National Weather Service reported only an inch of rain fell in Des Moines on Mar. 22. The pipe likely failed because it is old.

Des Moines has spent over a decade trying to separate the combined systems, and a project to separate the systems southwest of Drake University is expected to finish this year, reported Iowa Capital Dispatch.

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