‘Foul samples’County meets with DNR about Richmond, Rubio
Washington County officials and staff members of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) may have reached a tentative agreement for working on Richmond’s and Rubio’s sanitary sewer problems. Representatives from both groups met in the Washington DNR office on May 22.
Present from the county were supervisors Ron Bennett and Jack Seward Jr., county environmental health staff Jeff Thomann and Jennine Wolf, and county board of health chair Dr. Lloyd Holm. From the Washington DNR office were Terry Jones and Russell Royce, and from Des Moines were bureau chief Barb Lynch and environmental specialist senior Daniel Olson.
Seward began the meeting by laying out a tentative plan for the unincorporated community of Richmond. He used a map to show where the four samples of sewage were found last fall and the 20-plus homes that he thinks are contributing to the “foul samples.”
At the beginning of the meeting and a couple of more times during the meeting, Seward said, “Maybe I’m naïve, maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I really think we can get the problems solved.”
He said that bringing the private septic sewer systems of the homes contributing to the foul samples up to code is priority No. 1.
Holm, who was elected chairman of the Washington County Board of Health earlier that day, said, “Priority No. 1 should be public safety.”
He asked where Richmond residents obtain their water and learned that residents’ water comes from private wells.
Lynch agreed with Holm about public safety. She said that people may be getting sick by using contaminated well water and that they may not realize why they are getting sick.
“I would say, and history will tell me, that the reason people don’t have reports of getting sick from well water is they don’t realize that’s what’s bothering them,” she said.
She said that people may think they have the flu or that they suffer from chronic indigestion.
Lynch also said that no matter what the current board of supervisors has done or will do about Richmond’s sewer problem, “[We] still have the sewage out there, and you’ve got pets and children and elderly people being exposed to that because it’s right outside their home and it’s right next to their well.”
She described the board of supervisors’ decision to halt the sanitary sewer projects in Richmond and Rubio as “ground zero” because the county went from having a plan and grant funding to having no plan. She reminded the county officials that a previous board of supervisors had approved an administrative consent order from the DNR that sanitary sewer systems for Richmond and Rubio would be in place by June 1, 2014.
Lynch said she wants a written plan of what the county is going to do to bring both communities into compliance with state regulations. Not only is the plan to include Seward’s priority No. 1, but the entire Richmond community, and it is to include a timeline. The plan has to include what the county plans to do in Rubio as well.
One part of the plan, Seward said, is sending letters to the residents of both communities explaining what they need to do to comply with the regulations. The letter will include the DNR’s Web site address where residents can find more information about private septic systems and a list of approved contractors who can design, install and maintain systems.
Seward said his plan is to make sure residents know what they need to do and that they do it by Sept. 1. He said enforcement would begin Sept. 1 for those residents who don’t comply.
Lynch said that the DNR “really and truly is a reasonable machine at times.” However, she added, there may be resistance from the DNR because Washington County has been slow to comply with the order to eliminate the discharge of sewage in both communities.
When Seward told the rest of the board of supervisors during the May 28 board meeting about the meeting with the DNR, he said he received tentative approval to proceed with his plan. He also said that the new plan will need to be completed by mid-June.