Up to a quarter-million Iowans were inconvenienced by having the electricity go off during the weekend ice and snowstorm, but losing power can bring much larger problems to municipalities. Kevin Baskins, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says many communities found themselves in desperate situations.
Baskins says "Without electricity, in some communities, there’s no pumps and without the capacity to pump, some of the municipal wastewater treatment plants have had to bypass sewage in order to keep the sewage from backing up into homes and even in some cases, the sewage treatment plant itself." He says bypassing means having to dump the raw sewage directly into waterways.
Baskins says one of the worst cases in Iowa over the weekend was in Fairfield, where sewage plant workers had to use portable generators just to keep the plant from having a sewage back-up. Had that happened, he says the plant could have been down for much longer as all of the electronics could have been damaged.
Baskins says large bypasses can lead to fishkills and other significant problems with aquatic life, though no such problems have been reported from this weekend’s actions. He says at this time of year, it helps to have a lot of precipitation to increase the volume of water in the receiving streams which can dilute the sewage and prevent a widespread problem. Baskins says Fairfield was one of several cities across Iowa that had to resort to bypassing — including: Fort Madison, Garrison, Cedar Rapids, Mount Vernon, Denver, Westgate and Plymouth.