Iowa City, Iowa Removes Vulnerable Wastewater Treatment Facility

Iowa City, Iowa Removes Vulnerable Wastewater Treatment Facility

Equity & Justice

America’s water systems, and the communities that depend on them, are already feeling the strain that climate change has placed on existing water infrastructure. Low-income populations and communities of color have historically suffered from poor infrastructure and often live in areas with aging and outdated water systems that violate health-based standards established in the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, these populations experience higher rates of contaminated water, wastewater overflows, housing damage from floods, and increased risks of flooding.  

In a 2018 report, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council provided the US EPA with recommendations to assist communities with environmental justice concerns in developing technical, financial and managerial capacity within their water systems; and to address funding needs for infrastructure planning, design and construction. 

Project Summary

Iowa City, Iowa was among the hardest hit communities from the 2008 Iowa River floods. Extensive flooding along the riverfront, including inundation of a major wastewater treatment plant located along the river, prompted the community to take action. Rather than restoring the vulnerable North Wastewater Treatment Plant, Iowa City decided to decommission the plant and expand service at a facility located outside the floodplain. The plant had an average daily treatment of 9.7 million gallons with a design capacity of 24.2 million gallons per day. Although it did not quantify future climate risks explicitly, Iowa City consciously sought means to reduce the vulnerability of its wastewater services to future extreme storm events, which are projected to increase in the Midwest according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment.

The process to decommission, demolish and expand wastewater treatment services elsewhere is projected to cost $63 million. By decommissioning the vulnerable wastewater treatment plant and converting the surrounding area into a public greenspace, the city has adapted to reduce the threat and impact of future extreme storm events.

How did they do it?
ActionApplicable Resources

Iowa City identified a long-standing vulnerability and adaptation opportunity

  • Iowa City Public Works identified its wastewater treatment facilities as vulnerable to future extreme storm events.
  • The city asked for EPA technical assistance to develop an overarching Riverfront Master Plan, including a Treatment Plant Restoration Plan.

Iowa City reduced current and future vulnerability

  • The city consolidated wastewater treatment service in a low-risk area outside of the floodplain at a cost of $63 million and decommissioned a vulnerable facility thereby reducing future flood risk and the potential for untreated sewage releases.
  • By adopting an approach that utilized both gray and green infrastructure, the city yields multiple benefits through a less vulnerable wastewater services, improved stormwater management and creation of a new public space for recreational opportunities.
  • The EPA’s Adaptation Strategies Guide is intended to help communities consider possible ways to address anticipated current and future threats resulting from climate change.
  • The EPA's Flooding Resilience Guide provides users with information about their flooding threat and helps them identify practical mitigation options to protect their critical assets. 

Iowa City secured outside funding

  • This project was partially federally funded -- $22 million from the Economic Development Administration and $13 million from Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) Supplemental Disaster Funds.

Project Resources

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Iowa City, Iowa decided to move their facility away from danger.