WATERLOO — A contractor has been hired to repair a sanitary sewer line that has been leaking into the Cedar River for the past month.
Waterloo City Engineer Jamie Knutson signed a $262,420 contract Tuesday with Peterson Contractors Inc., of Reinbeck, to repair the force main which is dumping an estimated 12,000 gallons of untreated wastewater into the river each day.
Knutson said PCI will begin working as quickly as materials can be ordered and delivered to the site near Electric Park Ballroom, Sans Souci Island and the Conger Street bridge.
“The actual work will be a week or so, depending on weather,” he added.
City staff learned about the sewage leak at 5 p.m. on April 25 and reported it to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources at 9:22 a.m. the next morning, according to reports on file at the regional DNR office in Manchester. The situation has concerned many residents about potential health impacts and led to questions about why the public wasn’t alerted until May 14.
Amber Sauser, a DNR senior environmental specialist, said the city has submitted required reports regarding the leak and “has certainly expedited the process” to repair it.
DNR officials have been on site several times over the past few weeks to review the situation but won’t make any enforcement determinations until the event is over, she said.
Sauser said Iowa DNR does not have information about how far elevated bacteria levels might extend downstream from the site, which is about a mile upstream from downtown Waterloo.
“If you’re going to recreate (in the river), recreate upstream until that event is done,” she said.
The city has put up a sign warning people to stay away from the area until the repairs have been made.
While four weeks may seem like a long time to begin the repair, the city has used a provision in state law to bypass normal public hearing and bidding requirements due to the emergency nature of the situation.
Knutson said the depth of the main, which is 18 feet under a flood levee, and other factors make it a very complicated repair.
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“This is a 12-inch diameter force main and there are no easy repair options or shortcuts that can be taken,” he said. “All of the flow coming from the lift station must be able to be bypassed into the temporary piping.”
Knutson noted only a small amount of the waste passing through the pressurized sewer line is escaping into the river.
“The best analogy I can give you is if your garden hose springs a leak, that is what is happening here,” he said. “Most of the flow is still going through the force main. Only a small portion is leaking out, but the temporary piping must be able to handle the full flow of the force main.”
The city engineering department began working with AECOM on April 26 to develop plans for the repair while Waste Management Services staff opened and cleaned manholes to gather information for the project.
Resident Todd Obadal, speaking at a City Council meeting Monday, accused the city of attempting to cover up the sewer leak. A news release about the situation wasn’t sent out until May 14 after a resident brought the matter to the attention of a media outlet.
“This had been going on for weeks,” Obadal said. “Action should be taken immediately. The public shouldn’t be kept in the dark for weeks.”
Mayor Quentin Hart said he was not aware of the situation until May 14, at which point he directed a public news release and notified council members.
“As soon as Mayor Hart found out about this situation, I immediately took action,” he said.
Information provided by the city Wednesday indicates Waste Management Services had intended to repair the main with city staff until discovering the depth required a larger private contractor.
The city did not treat the situation as a sanitary sewer overflow, which prompts a public reporting process required under a consent decree with the federal government, because it was an urgent and unforeseeable leak requiring immediate attention.
City officials said the DNR contacted them on May 14 and recommended a news release be issued.