Midwest Floods Causing Problems for Water/Wastewater Utilities

Heavy rainfall and rapid snowmelt throughout the Midwest has triggered widespread catastrophic flooding, which is causing major problems for water and wastewater utilities in Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri. Several lives have been lost in the floods, along with thousands of homes and businesses totaling economic damages in the billions.

According to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, 95 percent of the state’s population is affected by flooding. And economic losses associated with flooding in the state are approaching $1 billion, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Nebraska floods knocked as many as 14 municipal drinking water systems offline, according to Omaha World-Herald, while another 50 wastewater treatment plants have reported problems to varying degrees. 

Community of Glenwood bands together

Meanwhile, a water treatment plant in Glenwood, Iowa, is offline due to flooding and residents are being asked to conserve water. The town has been receiving donations of bottled water, and portable restroom operators in the region banded together to provide restroom units for the local school district — one of the biggest water customers in Glenwood.

Students and staff at three of Glenwood’s four schools are using portable restrooms for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, portable restroom operators in Glenwood, Shenandoah, and Pacific Junction, Iowa, supplied 80 portable units to the schools this month. Located on higher ground, the schools escaped flood damage, but the Glenwood water utility was not as lucky.

“Our water treatment plant has been compromised by the flood,” says Devin Embray, Glenwood Community School District Superintendent. “We’re the major users of water in the community, so they’re asking us to try to help conserve water.

“We’re on bottled water for drinking and portable restrooms for flushing, and we’re still having school,” Embray says, adding that the portable restrooms were a tough sell at first, but that they’re now becoming part of the normal school routine. The water conservation measures have affected the entire district, including food service, transportation and custodial work.

“Every department is just really stepping up and joining hands together to get us through this difficulty. I’m very impressed with our staff. Everybody’s working extra hours to make this the best experience we can make it,” Embray says.

It’s unclear when the water utility will lift the water restrictions. First, 8 feet of floodwater needs to recede from around the treatment plant.

“We’re in this for the long haul, 30 days, if not more,” Embray says.

Writer Joan Koehne contributed to this article.


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