Millions of gallons of untreated sewage were bypassed into the state’s waterways this weekend as heavy rains overwhelmed treatment plants. Kevin Baskins of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says the state put together a committee in January that is looking at the problem. Baskins says there are some cases where there was no way to avoid the problem.

Baskins says Storm Lake is a good example, as Sunday when they normally would have three-million gallons of sewage run through their plant, they had 22 million gallons and had to bypass some of the sewage. Baskins says there are communities though, that need to upgrade their systems. He says designing a wastewater treatment plant to handle the top-end flow with rain they might ever see is cost prohibitive — but at the same time — Baskins says some communities are bypassing sewage when they shouldn’t have to bypass.

Baskins says the DNR committee will try to prioritize and help out the systems that seem to have the most problems. Baskins says they’re looking at the issues involved with wastewater bypassing, and the cities that seem to have the most trouble, and what can be done to get those cities to upgrade and improve. Baskins other bypass problems with sewage plants came up earlier this year during the winter storms that knocked out power over large areas of the state.

Baskins says the plants didn’t have adequate systems in place to deal with electrical outages, and the state is also working with those plants to be sure they have emergency plans in place. Baskins says this is an ongoing issue that drew more attention with the numerous bypasses this weekend.

Baskins says they don’t have a particular timetable for dealing with the issue, but he says it “is a priority of the department to look at what’s happening the terms of the wastewater bypasses we’ve had in recent years and to identify those wastewater treatment plants that need the most immediate attention.” Baskins says there are times when bypassing sewage into waterways is the best option.

Baskins says bypassing is something they “never like to see,” but during heavy rains they sometimes run into the dilemma of bypassing the sewage or letting the sewage back up into homes. Baskins says sewage backing up into homes can cause more problems, and sewage backing up into wastewater plants could do some long-term damage. Baskins says bypasses during heavy rains get diluted enough that they don’t usually cause environmental problems. He says only two-percent of the fish kills recorded from 1995 to 2006 can be attributed to sewage bypasses. Visit the DNR’s website to see a list of cities that discharged sewage this past weekend.