Former Superintendent of Sioux City WWTP sentenced for violating Clean Water Act

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SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) – A former Superintendent of the Sioux City Wastewater Treatment Plant was sentenced to federal prison on Thursday.

According to a press release from the Department of Justice, Jay Niday, 63, of Sergeant Bluff, pleaded guilty on October 6, 2020, to one count of conspiracy and one count of knowingly falsifying, tampering with, and rendering inaccurate monitoring device or method required to be maintained under the Clean Water Act. Niday was sentenced to three months in federal prison.

Evidence showed that Niday was a Superintendent at the Sioux City Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP). The WWTP is a regional sewage treatment plant for wastewater sources throughout Siouxland. The WWTP serves the following areas: Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, South Sioux City, Nebraska, North Sioux City, South Dakota, and Dakota Dunes, South Dakota.

The WWTP was required to treat wastewater before discharging it into the Missouri River under a Clean Water Act (CWA) permit.

Between March 15 and November 15 each year, the WWTP is required to disinfect wastewater to remove potentially dangerous human pathogens, which can include fecal coliform bacteria or E. coli.

The WWTP treats its wastewater with chlorine, and to make sure the Missouri River is not polluted, they’re supposed to test the water for pathogens and total residual chlorine levels.

From around 2011 to 2015, Niday knowingly withheld information about problems with the WWTP’s new treatment process from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). This new process was called “the MLE process.”

The press release stated Niday and other employees knew the WWTP didn’t work properly and couldn’t disinfect millions of gallons of wastewater that was being put into the Missouri River.

 “Jay Niday knowingly manipulated data at a wastewater treatment plant that received millions of dollars in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency state revolving funds. This sentencing fulfills the OIG’s commitment with our law enforcement partners to ensure that falsifying data and undermining the integrity of taxpayer dollars will not be tolerated,” said Daniel Hawthorne, Special Agent in Charge of the EPA Office of Inspector General’s Western Region Field Office. 

An engineering firm prepared a draft master plan in 2013 that contemplated under a $1 million contract with the city and provided it to Niday and another person.  The draft master plan said the WWTP’s treatment process couldn’t disinfect water properly. Niday told the engineering firm not to finalize the draft master plan instead of following recommendations in the report.

On bacteria testing day mornings, Shift Supervisor Patrick Schwarte and Niday told first-shift operators to increase the rate of liquid chlorine supplied to the wastewater. After some time had passed and an artificially high level of chlorine was fully mixed into wastewater, they instructed the WWTP’s first-shift operators to use hand-held colorimeters to gauge the levels of chlorine.

Niday would take a sample for pathogens only when the colorimeter was “maxed out.” This procedure violates the WWTP’s CWA permits. The WWTP never reported any exceedances of its CWA permit limits for bacteria or residual chlorine after July 2012. For up to two hours, the liquid chlorine rate was increased from about 2.5 gallons per hour to between 70 to 120 gallons per hour.

On bacteria testing day afternoons, after the high amounts of chlorine had dissipated from the WWTP’s chlorine contact basin, and when an insufficiently low rate of liquid chlorine was added, Schwarte and the Superintendent would test again for chlorine levels. In the afternoon, they were certain the chlorine levels would pass, only because a minimal rate of liquid chlorine was supplied to the contact basin at that time.

“By intentionally tampering with the disinfection processes at the Sioux City Wastewater Treatment Plant, Jay Niday placed the community and its natural resources in jeopardy of sustaining significant environmental damage. Today’s sentencing demonstrates that such violations will be vigorously prosecuted,” said Special Agent in Charge Lance Ehrig of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division for Iowa. 

Niday was sentenced to three months imprisonment, fined $6,000, and must serve two years of supervised release. He is required to also pay $2,500 in court-appointed attorney fees.

“Jay Niday deliberately worked with others to cheat on environmental tests, knowing he was polluting the Missouri River. His actions not only put recreational users of the river at risk, but also endangered the river’s aquatic life.  Niday’s blatant disregard for the law, the safety of the community, and his reprehensible treatment of a vital waterway was outrageous,” said Acting United States Attorney Sean R. Berry.

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