News Feature | January 16, 2019

Sioux City Wastewater Plant Supervisor Caught Masking E. Coli Samples, Will Plead Guilty

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

Following federal charges that he manipulated water sample test results to mask plant discharges, the ex-supervisor of a wastewater treatment plant in Sioux City, IA, plans to plead guilty.

The ex-supervisor, Patrick Schwarte, will admit to “conspiracy to defraud the United States and falsifying or providing inaccurate information from 2012 through June 2015,” the Sioux City Journal reported. “He is scheduled to appear before Chief Magistrate Judge Kelly Mahoney on Jan. 23 in U.S. District Court in Sioux City.”

According to a document filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Schwarte instructed other plant operators to raise chlorine levels added to the wastewater on days that E. coli samples were taken by investigators. However, no other individuals have been charged with the crime as of early last week.

“Prosecutors say chlorine was added to wastewater on days that E. coli samples were taken,” according to The Washington Times. “The samples then showed plant discharges into the Missouri River met federal limits for levels of fecal coliform and E. coli. The chlorine was reduced after the tests, saving the city money.”

The scheme saved the city at least $100,000 in one year, per the Journal.

Among the regulations that this process violated were the city’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits and the federal Clean Water Act. Aside from local residents and city officials, the crime deceived the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. EPA.

“The city’s wastewater treatment practices came under scrutiny in April 2015, when the DNR was tipped off that plant supervisors were manipulating chemical levels used to treat sewage, resulting in legally permitted discharges into the Missouri River containing high levels of E. coli bacteria and potentially endangering public health,” the Journal reported. “Improper chlorine releases also can endanger fish and water organisms.”

Schwarte and plant supervisor Jay Niday were dismissed in the summer of 2015 following the beginning of DNR’s investigation. The two also surrendered their state wastewater licenses.

While the federal investigation into the wrongdoing continues, the state’s case against Schwarte is stayed. A spokesperson told the Journal that state and federal authorities will continue to consult with one another.

To read more about crimes at wastewater treatment operations visit Water Online’s Wastewater Regulations and Legislation Solutions Center.