SIOUX CITY -- The former superintendent of Sioux City's wastewater treatment plant said he was hired by the city to ensure the smooth and lawful operation of the plant.
It was a duty he failed to perform, Jay Niday said Thursday while apologizing to the city and his family for his involvement in a scheme to manipulate water sample test results to ensure that plant discharges into the Missouri River met federal environmental requirements.
"For this, I am truly sorry," said Niday, who had pleaded guilty in October in U.S. District Court in Sioux City to charges of conspiracy and falsifying or providing inaccurate information.
Chief U.S. District Judge Leonard Strand sentenced Niday, 63, to three months in prison and fined him $6,000. Niday will serve two years on supervised release after completing his prison term. He will remain free until the U.S. Bureau of Prisons determines where he will be housed.
From 2012 through 2015, Niday and Patrick Schwarte manipulated chlorine levels to make it appear the city was meeting federal E. coli standards when wastewater samples were tested.
Niday's attorney, John Greer, of Spencer, Iowa, said he did not know what the motive was. There was no financial gain for Niday, who Greer said found out that Schwarte had been manipulating the test results but did not stop the practice.
"He looked the other way," Greer said. "He just said he should have put his foot down and said no."
Under the federal sentencing guidelines, a formula that takes several factors into account, Niday could have had a prison sentence of 30-37 months.
Strand cited Niday's lack of a criminal record as a factor in deciding to sentence him below the guidelines. Strand said he doubted Niday would be in trouble again. The sentence also was more in line with the one given to Schwarte, a plant shift supervisor whom Strand sentenced in November to two years probation and a $5,000 fine for the same two charges as Niday.
No other individuals have been charged, though court documents say that at least five other plant workers were involved in a process in which they were instructed by Niday and Schwarte to raise chlorine levels added to wastewater on days that E. coli samples were taken, producing test samples showing plant discharges met federal limits for levels of fecal coliform and E. coli before they were discharged into the Missouri River.
Once the samples were taken, chlorine added to the wastewater was reduced to minimal levels, leading to the discharge of water containing high levels of E. coli and potentially endangering public health and fish and water organisms.
The fraudulent procedures violated and concealed violations of the city's federal and state permits and the federal Clean Water Act.
The scheme came to light in 2015 when the Iowa Department of Natural Resources was tipped off to Niday and Schwarte's actions.
The city fired them in June 2015, and both surrendered their state wastewater licenses. Niday told state investigators the city saved at least $100,000 in one year when workers administered the smaller levels of chlorine.
Guy Cook, a Des Moines attorney representing the city, has said that Niday and Schwarte acted on their own and were not directed by city department heads. On Thursday, he said the city continues to cooperate with federal authorities on the matter.
Whether Niday's sentencing brings a close to the matter is unclear. Officials can't say whether criminal charges will be filed against other current or former plant employees or if the city could face any legal consequences.
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesman said the agency is not able to comment on any ongoing or potential enforcement matters. A U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman also said he could not comment on the case.
In June 2016, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission referred the DNR's case against the city to the Iowa Attorney General's Office for consideration of civil penalties in excess of $10,000 or criminal charges. The state stayed its case while the federal investigation proceeded.
Iowa Attorney General spokesman Lynn Hicks said the state's case remains stayed while the office reviews information from Niday's and Schwarte's cases.
Built in 1961, Sioux City's wastewater treatment plant, located at 3100 S. Lewis Blvd., near the intersection of Interstate 29 and U.S. Highway 20, accepts industrial, commercial and residential wastewater from Sioux City. The city also accepts wastewater from Sergeant Bluff, South Sioux City, North Sioux City and Dakota Dunes.