Through a very public process, the National Park Service will replace a failed septic system at the Effigy Mounds National Monument visitor center in northeast Iowa. 
Through a very public process, the National Park Service will replace a failed septic system at the Effigy Mounds National Monument visitor center in northeast Iowa. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

In my last column, you may recall I noted the failure of the septic system at Effigy Mounds National Monument in northeast Iowa. That caused the cancellation of the Winter Film Festival this year.

Now a press release from the National Park Service (NPS) gives details involving the system’s planned replacement. You can bet, after recent problems at the monument, that this current process is being placed very much in the public eye as to correct procedures being used. Public review of the proposal is available and public comments will be taken.

First, let’s look back at past problems:

• Construction done there in the past without prior required archaeological studies and excavations. Find two reports on that issue at and at

• The taking of human bones in the past, with an investigation, charges filed and the bones returned in the last year or so. A report on that is at

I agree this upcoming process should be very public – as it’s always supposed to be – so am sharing the details here. The Feb. 16 press release follows. It is titled: NPS releases environmental assessment for Effigy Mounds NM (National Monument) septic system – Existing system has failed and must be replaced.

The National Park Service has released an Environmental Assessment (EA) for installing a new septic system in the park headquarters area at Effigy Mounds National Monument. The park’s current septic system, constructed in 1959, has failed and needs to be replaced. The EA assesses the impacts associated with either keeping things as they are, or installing a new system in the area between the main parking lot and Highway 76.

“Ground disturbance in a park like Effigy Mounds National Monument is something that must be done with the utmost care,” said Superintendent Jim Nepstad. “In preparation for an eventual replacement project, we have been consulting with our tribal and state historic preservation partners on this since the current system started having problems a couple of years ago. The current system has failed now, so we need to act.”

The new system will be designed to accommodate the park’s 70,000 - 80,000 annual visitors, and could be expanded if needed. The proposed location for the new system is believed to have been heavily impacted back in 1959, when the majority of the park’s infrastructure was constructed. Most of this area appears to have been scraped below the cultural zone to create fill that was used to level off low spots in what became the parking lot. A series of soil profiles will be drilled this winter to confirm that this is the case, and the new system will be shifted accordingly if anything is found.

“The heaviest ground disturbance will take place in the location least likely to have any remaining archeological context,” Nepstad continued. “Out of an abundance of caution, we will double-check ourselves before construction starts to ensure that assumption is correct. New lines will be installed with directional boring equipment to minimize trenching, but parts of the new system will require traditional excavation. Qualified archeologists will carefully monitor all work, and tribal monitoring of the project is being encouraged.”

Copies of the septic system EA are available at, and comments may be electronically submitted there as well.

The EA will be available for public comment through March 18. A public open house will be held Feb. 28, from 2 to 5:30 p.m. at the Effigy Mounds National Monument visitor center, located three miles north of Marquette, Iowa, on Highway 76.

The open house will provide the public with an opportunity to speak with NPS subject matter experts about the project and the precautions being taken.

Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this column weekly for about 15 years.