A Pleasant Valley nursing home is facing a state-issued deadline to repair ongoing leaks from its wastewater treatment facility.
An environmental specialist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, DNR, said complaints and inspections have been ongoing at Riverview Manor for nearly five years. Some of the center's waste has been leaking into a ditch in a residential neighborhood, prompting complaints.
"We finally said, 'Look: We've been trying to get you to do something for a long time,' " said Terry Jones, of the DNR. "We set a drop-dead deadline of November 1.
"We have a tendency to try to coach into compliance. Our whole goal is to give them time to get stuff done.
"Most of the time, that works pretty well, but this has been ongoing."
The DNR became aware that sewage was leaking into a ditch along Spencer Road — just off U.S. 67 in Pleasant Valley — after numerous complaints by neighbors and neighboring land owners about the smell of raw sewage.
The administrator for Riverview referred questions to the corporate office for Pearl Valley, which owns the nursing home. Justin Goldberg of Pearl Valley did not respond to questions sent via email on Friday, regarding the status of compliance efforts.
Jones said several transfers of ownership and management have contributed to delays in getting the treatment facility into compliance. But he also said the chief problem seems to be inadequate maintenance.
"It's not always the same problem," he said. "There has been a series of maintenance issues that have caused the problems. There was a leaking shut-off valve at the (waste retention) lagoon, and that was repaired. This time, it's a leak in the line.
"Right now, we're told the leak has been repaired, but it's most likely not the kind of repair we would expect. It isn't likely to be permanent."
Testing of water in the ditch alongside Riverview has revealed unacceptably high levels of pollutants, Jones said, adding that some of the neighboring septic systems could be contributing to the problem, too. But the sewage leaks coming from the nursing home are far too frequent, he said.
The first complaints were made in the summer of 2014, prompting the issuance of two Notice(s) of Violation, he said. The DNR requires that sewage be held in retention facilities for 180 days, but Riverview has not been able to meet that requirement.
"They've got to make a concerted effort to get the system right," Jones said. "If you've got the same complaints going on for almost five years, that's not acceptable."
Betty Cerny and her husband own land adjacent to the nursing home, and she said they have been aware of sewage draining into the ditch for several years.
"In the summertime, the smell is terrible," she said. "Something needs to be done about it."
In addition to the odor, the leaks can be dangerous, Jones said.
"There are health risks associated with raw sewage," he said. "Any human contact is not good. It's not just people. It's animals, too. It just shouldn't be in there."
If the recent repairs to the wastewater system are deemed inadequate when the Nov. 1 deadline rolls around, Jones said, the agency is prepared to take more serious action.
"If they don't get it fixed this time, we're going to refer for legal action," he said. "This has gone on long enough."
In addition to possible fines of up to $10,000 assessed by the DNR, the nursing home could face additional penalties from the Iowa Attorney General's office.
"It shouldn't have any leakage, period," he said. "They should have fixed it a long time ago."