September 20, 2016

Water Quality Concerns: More than Nitrate

Like high nitrate concentration in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers, another agrotoxin from excess nutrients from intensive agricultural production upstream is threatening central Iowa drinking water sources.

Cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as blue-green algae, grow and multiply quickly where there are high nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus). Certain forms of blue-green algae can also produce toxins that can make humans and animals sick.  When cyanobacteria counts rise, there is greater potential for the presence of cyanotoxins, which raise health concerns related to the liver, nervous system and gastrointestinal system.

Microcystin is the cyanotoxin found in the finished drinking water of Toledo, Ohio, in 2014, that prompted the city to issue a “Do Not Drink” order for its 500,000 customers.  The cyanotoxin was released by a cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Erie at the time, near the city’s water intake system.

Much like Toledo, Des Moines Water Works uses surface water to produce drinking water for 500,000 central Iowa customers.

DSC_1437Des Moines Water Works recently began a more aggressive testing regimen for the presence of harmful cyanotoxins when elevated cyanobacteria levels are present in raw water sources.  While many water utilities do not have equipment to test for these toxins, Des Moines Water Works recently invested in instrumentation that allows staff to monitor for microcystin and cylindrospermospin, per U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommendations, as well as two additional known cyanotoxins – anatoxin and saxitoxin.  Des Moines Water Works now routinely samples three times per week during the warmer months of the year, and more frequently when necessary.

Des Moines Water Works’ treatment process has limited ability to thoroughly remove these toxins from finished water; however, the ability to avoid the river source with the greatest amount of toxins remains the single most effective strategy to protect customers. Des Moines Water Works must remain nimble to the emerging science and public health considerations of these toxins.  Staff from Des Moines Water Works is working with state regulators from Iowa Department of Natural Resources and public health and emergency management personnel, to communicate health advisories if microcystin or cylindrospermospin are detected in the finished drinking water, as prescribed by EPA.

Des Moines Water Works is committed to delivering safe, affordable and abundant drinking water to its customers. Finished drinking water continues to meet or exceed drinking water quality standards; however, it is increasingly challenging.  Des Moines Water Works remains advocates for a holistic approach for addressing water quality in Iowa, including promoting precision conservation practices to reduce excess nutrients, E. Coli, eroded soil, and emerging contaminants – much of which can be attributable to agricultural production.

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September 13, 2016

Water Works Park Plans and Progress

In 1925, the Board of Water Works Trustees purchased 334 acres of land south of the Raccoon River, west of S.W. 30th Street. General Manager Charles Denman stated that the newly acquired land would insure a potential water supply large enough for a city twice the size of Des Moines. Gradually, additional land (now known as Water Works Park) bordering the Raccoon River on both sides, extending to 63rd Street was purchased to protect the source water. In April of 1933, Water Works Park was opened to the public. At that time, the water supply grounds covered 1,400 acres. Today, Water Works Park now spans 1,500 acres.

In 2013, the Des Moines Water Works Park Foundation was formed and charged with implementing the master plan for Water Works Park. The Park Foundation recently announced it has gone over the $5 million mark in pledges for the planned $9 million first phase of Water Works Park improvements.

It should be noted that the funds being raised to implement the master plan by the Foundation are from private sources and do not come from Des Moines Water Works ratepayers.

RDg_Waterworks_7 - skylineThe focus of the first phase is to create a destination platform for individuals’ and groups’ daily use and self-programming. The Park Foundation hopes to enhance Water Works Park users’ experience by developing a two-way amphitheater, the great lawn, a celebration lawn, natural play areas, and a series of pathways that lead to different experiences in and around the existing Arie den Boer Arboretum. The new elements are being designed to be both flood resilient and located on the highest ground in the park, which historically only floods during 100 year flood events.

The goal of the master plan is to introduce visitors to Water Works Park’s many assets through better wayfinding; support systems such as parking, bathrooms and food trucks; and safe connections to neighboring Gray’s Lake Park and the many regional trail systems. This will make Water Works Park more accessible for users across all spectrums of age, ability and interest – all while telling the history and importance of water in the greater Des Moines metro area.

“This plan offers something for everyone,” said Randy Reichardt, President of the Park Foundation Board. “It’s free, accessible and in the middle of the city. The project brings to life an under-utilized resource that will help elevate the quality of life for anyone who comes in contact with this amazing park.”

The Park Foundation believes that by enhancing the connectivity of this urban green space to the rest of the city, it encourages
activity and experiences for recreation and health, education and conservation, which serve as the guiding principles for the Park Foundation. Its proximity to Gray’s Lake, downtown Des Moines, and several neighborhoods expands usable urban green space for area workers and the growing number of downtown area residents, alleviating the overcrowding of adjoining 170-acre Gray’s Lake Park.

Water Works Park is owned and operated by Des Moines Water Works, and at 1,500 acres, it is one of the largest urban park in the country and about twice the size of New York City’s Central Park. The Des Moines Water Works Park Foundation is a separate entity, a Private Non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, charged with implementing the Water Works Park master plan through phasing, fundraising and enhanced programming to encourage more purposeful interaction with Water Works Park and the story of clean water.

For more information, visit Des Moines Water Works Park Foundation’s website: www.dmwwpf.org or follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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September 9, 2016

Central Iowa Drinking Water Cooperation

Des Moines Water Works has a long history of providing the Des Moines metro area with safe, affordable and abundant drinking water. The utility’s regional approach began as early as 1934, when Urbandale began receiving water from Des Moines Water Works because their wells were going dry and water was being rationed. Since then, most suburban communities have connected to Des Moines Water Works, and Des Moines Water Works remains committed to continuing to be a regional water provider that meets the growing needs of our area.

New CIRDWC LogoWith the assistance of 22 members of the Central Iowa Regional Drinking Water Commission, Des Moines Water Works has begun a long range plan to evaluate the Des Moines metro area’s water needs and supply, treatment and distribution capabilities through 2035. This work is important so Des Moines Water Works is able to provide water to growing communities when and where it is needed over the next 20 years.

Des Moines Water Works values our relationship with metro area communities and believes Des Moines and suburban customers alike have benefited from a long standing and strong working relationship. A regional approach provides economies of scale and encourages collaboration in jointly constructed assets and facilities, including treatment plants, storage facilities, and pumping stations. Additionally, a regional approach promotes economic development in the metro area, as communities work together to provide a reliable and adequate water supply to new industries and customers with a heavy reliance on water service.

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May 23, 2016

Travel the Water Treatment Process

Many Des Moines metro area residents turn on the tap without thinking about where their water came from, how  it got there and who made it safe to drink. Whether you are 8 or 98 or anywhere in between, it is important to understand the multi-barrier approach that provides you with a vital public health product. Travel along the Des Moines Water Works’ water treatment process in a two-part video series that explains the many steps taken from river to tap, and the importance to Think Downstream.

To view the videos, visit www.dmww.com/education/education-resources/video.

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May 12, 2016

2016 Consumer Confidence Report

woman with glass of waterDes Moines Water Works is committed to delivering safe, affordable and abundant drinking water to our customers.  Safe drinking water is treated water that has been tested for harmful and potentially harmful substances and has met or exceeded drinking water quality standards set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Iowa.  The EPA sets drinking water standards to define the limits of contaminants considered safe for drinking water. These levels are based on studies of the health effects associated with each contaminant and include a sufficient safety margin to ensure that water meeting these standards is safe for nearly everyone to drink.  The Consumer Confidence Report is an annual water quality report that helps customers understand the quality and safety of tap water provided by Des Moines Water Works. The current Consumer Confidence Report is now available at: http://www.dmww.com/upl/documents/library/2016ccr.pdf.  If you would like a printed copy of the Consumer Confidence Report mailed to you or have any questions about your drinking water, please contact a Customer Service Representative at (515) 283-8700.

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May 9, 2016

Natural Denitrification Wetland Pilot Project

During 2015, Des Moines Water Works operated the Nitrate Removal Facility for a record-setting 177 days, eclipsing the previous record of 106 days set in 1999. The Nitrate Removal Facility is used to reduce source water nitrate concentrations to below 10 mg/L, a level established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for our 500,000 central Iowa customers.

Des Moines Water Works has been working with a consultant to evaluate nitrate trends in the raw water sources. These trends indicate that nitrate concentrations will continually increase without regulation upstream, reaching levels where the existing Nitrate Removal Facility will be unable to provide sufficient removal to meet the EPA’s drinking water standards.

In an attempt to evaluate alternative nitrate removal technologies, Des Moines Water Works is constructing a pilot wetland in 2016. This pilot project will be a one acre surface flow wetland located in Water Works Park. The pilot will be used to test the efficiency of nitrate removal through natural processes. Testing of the pilot will help staff understand how a full scale wetland would react to changes in temperature and flood events, along with any other water quality concerns.

Pilot wetland under construction in Water Works Park

In late April, DMWW staff planted 20,000 cattails and bulrush plants in the pilot wetland area.

If successful, Des Moines Water Works will consider converting a large portion (up to 80-acres) of Water Works Park into constructed wetlands, with the goal of providing natural denitrification, and ultimately protecting the health of our customers.

The consultant is also recommending several nitrate removal measures, including expansion of the current ion exchange denitrification facility. The funds needed for nitrate mitigation in the recently announced five year capital improvement plan total $70 million. An additional $10 million will be needed beyond the five year outlook, for a total of $80 million in infrastructure investments in order to meet the safe drinking water standard for nitrate.

 

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May 5, 2016

What do I Need to Know about the Risks of Lead in Drinking Water?

How does lead get into drinking water?

  • Generally, finished drinking water contains no lead.
  • Lead may be present in piping and plumbing fixtures found in customers’ homes.
  • If drinking water is corrosive, it can corrode customers’ lead service lines and plumbing fixtures, which can result in elevated lead levels in drinking water.
  • Homes constructed before 1950 may be served by a lead water service line. Copper pipe installed before 1985 may have been installed using lead-containing solder.
  • To see if your property is in a Des Moines or Polk County neighborhood that has the greatest potential for a lead service line, view the Potential Lead Service Lines in Des Moines map.

What are the health effects of lead in drinking water?

  • Customers who drink water with elevated lead levels can suffer long term health impacts including damage to the liver, kidneys, or even the brain.
  • Mental development issues are a significant concern for children exposed to lead contamination.
  • In 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency published a regulation to control lead and copper in drinking water. The rule is part of the Safe Water Drinking Act, and it requires water systems to monitor drinking water at customer taps.  If lead concentrations exceed the Action Level of 0.015 mg/L (or 15 parts per billion) in more than 10 percent of taps, the system must complete additional actions to control the corrosion.

What is Des Moines Water Works doing to control elevated lead levels?

  • Des Moines Water Works treats the drinking water to ensure it is not corrosive.
  • Corrosion control is an important part of Des Moines Water Works’ treatment process.  By carefully managing the chemistry of our drinking water, Des Moines Water Works ensures the water is not corrosive.
  • A number of factors impact how corrosive treated drinking water will be.  These factors include the total amount of dissolved minerals in the water (calcium and magnesium), alkalinity, temperature, and pH.
  • Each day, samples are analyzed to ensure Des Moines Water Works’ treatment for corrosion control remains effective.

Could what happened in Flint, Michigan happen in Des Moines?

  • Des Moines Water Works is paying close attention to what unfolded in Flint, Michigan.  In North America, no one should have to question the safety of water at the tap.  Flint underscores that Des Moines Water Works’ first job is to protect the families we serve. Those of us involved in managing, cleaning and delivering water share an obligation to protect public health.
  • We do not have first-hand knowledge about what occurred in Flint, but this much seems clear: When Flint switched its water supply source, the new water caused lead to leach from service lines and home plumbing – lead that ended up in water coming out of the taps.
  •  This kind of incident is unlikely here because Des Moines Water Works monitors water quality parameters on a daily or even hourly basis to ensure the drinking water we produce will not be corrosive.  Des Moines Water Works also follows a written Lead and Copper Sampling Plan.  This plan helps ensure we stay in compliance with the requirements of the Lead and Copper Rule.
  • Des Moines Water Works tests for lead and copper contamination by asking customers with specific types of plumbing to collect samples in their homes.
  • These results are published annually in Des Moines Water Works’ Consumer Confidence Report, which describes the regulatory requirements Des Moines Water Works must meet or exceed.
  • Des Moines Water Works continues to be in compliance with Lead and Copper Rule requirements.
  • Supplying approximately 500,000 central Iowans with safe, affordable and abundant drinking water is Des Moines Water Works’ mission. Water plays a key role in your health and Des Moines Water Works plays a key role in providing water you can trust for life.

What can you do to limit exposure to elevated levels of lead?

  • Use only water from the cold tap for drinking, cooking, or preparing baby formula.
  • Flush the tap for two to four minutes before using water for drinking or cooking when no water has been used for several hours. Showering, washing dishes, or doing laundry can be effective ways to flush household plumbing before water is used for drinking or cooking.
  • While in-home water treatment devices such as softeners or filtration systems are not necessary in Des Moines, if such in-home treatment devices are used, they must be properly operated and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.  Improperly operated in-home treatment devices can increase the potential for water to become corrosive.

Where can I find more information?

  • To see if your property is in a Des Moines or Polk County neighborhood that has the greatest potential for a lead service line, view the Potential Lead Service Lines in Des Moines map.
  • If you are concerned about lead in your water, you may wish to have your water tested. Please contact Des Moines Water Works at 283-8700 to learn if you are eligible for a complimentary lead test.  If you are not eligible for a free test but still wish to have your water tested, a $18 fee will apply.
  • Visit EPA’s lead information website: http://www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family#homeleadsafe.
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April 22, 2016

On Earth Day, Des Moines Water Works Reflects on Resources Spent to Manage Agrotoxins in Source Waters

This Earth Day, as nitrate concentrations in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers continue to rise, Des Moines Water Works reflects on the vast resources spent to manage the persistent agrotoxins in the waters of the state.

Des Moines Water Works continues to meet and exceed regulatory requirements for safe drinking water for 500,000 central Iowa customers; however, not without a cost to our ratepayers.  In 2015, Des Moines Water Works operated its Nitrate Removal Facility for a record-setting 177 days, surpassing the previous record of 106, set in 1999.  Due to the significant costs to operate the facility and the rising nitrate concentration in Des Moines’ source waters, Des Moines Water Works has also invested a significant amount of capital funds in projects for natural nitrate removal or avoidance:

  • The natural denitrification strategies include Water Works Park ponds, former gravel pits near Des Moines Water Works’ L.D. McMullen Water Treatment Plant, and most recently, a constructed wetland pilot project in Water Works Park.  If the one-acre pilot wetland is successful, Des Moines Water Works will consider converting a large portion (up to 80-acres) of Water Works Park into constructed wetlands, with the goal of providing natural denitrification, and ultimately protecting the health of our customers.

In this natural process, nitrate is consumed and converted to nitrogen gas by the life processes of microorganisms.  Although the ultimate source of water is the Raccoon River, this approach maximizes the time the water is in off-river storage and allows the nitrate concentration in the river water to be reduced via biological reduction.

  • To avoid high nitrate water in a particular source water, Des Moines Water Works has also invested capital funds for projects that provide access to water with very little nitrate levels – Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells – or water with lower nitrate concentration – Des Moines River – that can be blended with other water sources in order to meet drinking water quality standards.

Des Moines Water Works’ two ASR wells (a third one is currently being constructed) store finished water in wells for distribution to customers at a later date. Although originally developed to smooth out spikes in treatment demand during high customer demand periods, the ASR wells have been utilized to meet customer demand during high nitrate levels.

The Des Moines River Intake facility was constructed to provide additional raw water supply for the Fleur Drive Water Treatment Plant. With the Saylorville Reservoir upstream from the intake, the nitrate concentration in the Des Moines River is almost always lower than the Raccoon River. Access to the Des Moines River provides Des Moines Water Works with another lower nitrate water supply option that was not available prior to construction of this facility.

  • Des Moines Water Works’ newest treatment plant – Saylorville Water Treatment Plant – uses reverse osmosis membranes that removes nitrate from the water, without the use of a side-stream nitrate removal facility.

Ultimately, the best way to reduce nitrate concentration in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers is nutrient management on farms and watershed protection to prevent agrotoxins from directly entering surface waters.  Des Moines Water Works follows this concept by practicing agricultural best management practices on 100 acres of leased farm land on Maffitt Reservoir property, including the use of cover crops and adjusted rental rates for the tenant to install conservation practices.

Des Moines Water Works remains vigilant in protecting the source waters that produce drinking water for central Iowans.  On this Earth Day and every day, Des Moines Water Work is committed to producing water you can trust for life, even with adverse water quality conditions.  Des Moines Water Works asks all Iowans to Think Downstream.

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February 1, 2016

1900s Water Trough Still Flowing

horse trough (2)

In the early 1900s, Des Moines was still a predominantly horse and buggy town.  Several organizations, in an effort to ease the strain on horses, built two public water troughs and then gave them to the City of Des Moines.  Over the years, the water troughs became obsolete as automobiles became the common mode of transportation.

The original locations of the two water troughs were at 8th and Cherry and Penn and Grand, most likely in the middle of the intersections.  Their original locations were selected with the approval of the National Humane Alliance and subsequently, was the reason they were moved.  Apparently, they caused too much congestion when buses, trucks, and autos came along.  The city council ordered their removal and for a while, they were stored.  At some time after 1915, one was moved to SE 10th and Scott Avenue and the other moved to SE 6th and Hartford.

The Southeast Water Trough at Sam Cohen Park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.  Through the decades and even today, the trough is still dispensing water, albeit now as a fountain.  Water pours from two lion heads into the horse trough.  At the base, four smaller water-filled troughs allowed smaller animals to drink. Water also flowed from a small alcove above the horse trough.

 

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January 25, 2016

Community Sponsorships

Des Moines Water Works is committed to being a vital contributor to the betterment of our community. We will consider contributions and sponsorships with external organizations that advance our mission, vision and strategic initiatives.  Visit www.dmww.com/about-us/sponsorships for more information and examples of requests that will and will not be considered.

DMWW MissionThe guidelines provided below are aimed at ensuring that our community giving and involvement meet the following goals:

  1. Provide value to both Des Moines Water Works and the community.
  2. Reflect appropriate and accountable use of public funds.
  3. Strengthen Des Moines Water Works’ outreach efforts.
  4. Enhance Des Moines Water Works’ reputation for leadership in the environment.

Sponsorship and Contribution Guidelines and Considerations:*

Support the communities Des Moines Water Works serves through contributions and sponsorships to civic, nonprofit, education, and business programs, activities and events that:

  • Build awareness and appreciation among the public for the value of water as a vital resource.
  • Build awareness for source water quality and quantity.
  • Align with our missions, strategic goals and annual budget.
  • Build support for our core business objectives.
  • Help build brand awareness of Des Moines Water Works’ mission, vision and value to the community.

*All requests for contributions and sponsorships are subject to budgetary limitations.

How to Submit a Sponsorship Request:

  • Requests must be submitted for consideration at least 60 days prior to the event or activity for which funding is requested.
  • All requests for in-kind or financial support must be made using the Sponsorship Request Form available at www.dmww.com/about-us/sponsorships.
  • After funds are allocated, a follow-up report of the event, program or activity will be required.

 

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January 21, 2016

Trumpeter Swan Soiree at Maffitt Reservoir

Trumpeter SwanTrumpeter swans were once common in Iowa, but were gone from the state by the late 1880s.  By the early 1930s, only 69 Trumpeter Swans remained in the lower 48 states.  As the largest North American waterfowl, these magnificent all-white birds can weigh up to 32 pounds with an 8-foot wingspan. Public support is vital in restoring Trumpeter Swans to Iowa.

The public is invited to a Trumpeter Swan Soiree at the Des Moines Water Works’ Dale Maffitt Reservoir and at Walnut Woods State Park lodge on Saturday, January 30.  Dale Maffitt Reservoir is located on the southwest edge of Des Moines Des Moines metro area.  From the intersection of I-35 and Hwy #5; travel 1.5 miles east to South 35th Street (exit 201), travel 1/8th mile south on South 35th Street, then 2 miles west on Maffitt Lake Road, Dale Maffitt Reservoir is located on the south side of the road.  https://goo.gl/maps/w9CJ8xyrqbQ2

There will be opportunities to view the Trumpeter Swans through spotting scopes and witness random swan feeding and flying sessions at the Dale Maffitt Reservoir.  Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Polk and Dallas County Conservation staff will be giving ten-minute outdoor presentations every half-hour beginning at 10:30 until 1:30 p.m.  Hot chocolate, hot cider, cookies, grilled hot dogs and other snacks will be provided free of charge with donations accepted for swan care.

Programs will also be given indoors at the Walnut Woods State Park lodge beginning at 10:30 a.m. Snacks and drinks will be available. Des Moines Water Works will present, “Trumpeting the Cause: Water Quality in Iowa,” at 11:30 a.m.   For a complete list of programs, visit http://www.iowadnr.gov/About-DNR/DNR-News-Releases/ArticleID/391/Trumpeter-Swan-Soiree-in-Polk-County-Jan-30.

This event is being sponsored by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Polk and Dallas County Conservation Boards, Des Moines Water Works, Des Moines Parks and Recreation, Walnut Woods State Park, Trumpeter Swan Society, Blank Park Zoo, Christian Photo and Keller Williams Realty.

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January 18, 2016

Water Quality Monitoring and Public Data

As consumers, we think of “nutrients” as something good and even necessary to support maximum crop yields.  But pollution occurs when the amount of nutrients present or applied to land are more than can be used by plants.  Excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) that are discharged into our water are wasted resources and pose significant, costly risks to human health and the environment, both here in Iowa and the Gulf of Mexico.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Des Moines Water Works is required to meet the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for the maximum contaminate level (MCL) in its finished drinking water. The MCL standard for nitrate (a form of nitrogen) is 10 mg/L (or 10 parts per million).  The health risks associated with nitrate contamination above MCL include Methaemoglobinemia, or also known as “blue baby syndrome,” where infants under six months of age who consume water over 10 mg/L may lose the ability to transport oxygen. It is unknown how higher nitrate levels affect the broader population, but researchers are studying potential impacts.  When nitrate concentrations in Des Moines Water Works’ source waters (Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers) are above 10 mg/L, the utility must operate a costly nitrate removal facility in order to meet the Safe Drinking Water Standard for its finished drinking water.  In addition to public health risks to drinking water, nitrate pollution also contributes to the hypoxic conditions in public waters, including the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone.”

Water Quality

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was introduced in 2012 with a stated goal to eventually reduce the state’s contribution of nutrients in rivers, streams and lakes by 45%.  However, in order to see those results many things need to happen – including agricultural accountability, effective monitoring and sustained funding.

Source water quality is a vital interest of Des Moines Water Works, which has been increasingly threatened by agricultural pollution.  Because of this interest, Des Moines Water Works is pleased to recognize progress in water quality research and monitoring of Iowa’s rivers, lakes and streams, by initiatives currently being developed by the IIHR – Hydroscience and Engineering program at the University of Iowa, headed by Dr. Larry Weber.  IIHR has been a worldwide leader in hydrology and fluids-related research for nearly a century.  The IIHR is focused on science-based research, independent of Iowa Board of Regents’ bias.

Research at IIHR includes a network of 28 water quality monitoring sites throughout Iowa. State-of-the-art remote sensors provide near real-time data (every 15 minutes), that measure nitrate, dissolved oxygen, water temperature, specific conductance, and pH.  Researchers at IIHR have also developed an easy-to-use web platform, the Iowa Water-Quality Information System (IWQIS), to disseminate and interpret the sensor data.  IWQIS displays near real-time data on nitrate and other water-quality variables from in-stream sensors across Iowa in a user-friendly interface.  This new information makes it possible for all interested Iowans to use a science-based approach when making decisions that affect water quality.  Des Moines Water Works encourages citizens to visit http://iwqis.iowawis.org to view this interactive tool containing real-time water conditions and historical data.

wqi-map2 2

IIHR’s monitoring network will expand to 55 sites in 2016. Coverage will include all the state’s major rivers. For the first time, water quality researchers will be able to quantify many important parameters, including the total amount of nitrate leaving Iowa via the state’s rivers and the effectiveness of specific nitrate mitigation efforts.

Des Moines Water Works remains committed to protecting Iowa’s water by holding agriculture accountable for environmental protection, just like any other business who discharges into Iowa’s waterways.  The water quality monitoring and public data collected and compiled by IIHR and presented by the IWQIS are important steps to assess the condition of Iowa’s waterways, quantify the effectiveness of water quality efforts, and track progress toward meeting water quality improvement goals.  Please support IIHR’s leadership in science-based environmental protection.

 

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December 1, 2015

Reacting to What’s Flowing Down the River

Cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as blue-green algae, are a serious problem in surface water sources in the United States, including Iowa.  Cyanobacteria grow and multiply quickly where there are high nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in warm, calm waters.  Blooms create blue to green murky water, visible surface scum and a foul odor. The blooms can spread across the water but tend to accumulate in shoreline areas.

IMG_5714{Cyanobacteria bloom at Big Creek State Park. Photo courtesy of Iowa Environmental Council

While algae blooms are a nuisance, certain forms of blue-green algae can also produce toxins that can make humans and animals sick.  The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) monitors state park beaches weekly in the summer for the toxin microcystin that is produced by some forms of blue-green algae common in Iowa. Warnings are posted when microcystin exceeds 20 parts per billion (ppb), a guideline established by the World Health Organization for recreational waters. Contact with water with more than 20 ppb of microcystin represents a risk of cyanotoxin associated illnesses including breathing problems, stomach upset, skin reactions, and even liver damage. Inhaling water droplets containing microcystin can cause runny eyes and nose, cough and sore throat, chest pain, asthma-like symptoms or allergic reactions. Pets and other animals that swim or drink the water can be exposed to deadly levels of microcystin.  This year has been favorable for cyanobacterial blooms, with high nutrients and warm waters. Iowa Department of Natural Resources posted a record 34 warnings at state park beaches with high levels of microcystin.

It is important to note that while DNR monitors state park beaches for this toxin, the problem is not isolated to these lakes. Many other public and private beaches not monitored by DNR are also susceptible to blue-green algae blooms.

Cyanobacteria are also known for causing taste and odor problems in drinking water for utilities that use surface water.  When cyanobacteria counts rise, there is greater potential for the presence of cyanotoxins, which raise health concerns related to the liver, nervous system and gastrointestinal system.  Last year, the City of Toledo, Ohio, issued a “do not drink” order. The municipal ban left approximately 500,000 Toledo and Michigan residents without drinking water for three days, which was contaminated by a toxin produced by an algae bloom in Lake Erie.

Currently there is not a federal standard for blue-green algae or their toxins in drinking water; however, a growing number of states are introducing their own guidelines and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named cyanotoxins as a candidate for federal regulation with recently published guidelines.

Historically, Des Moines Water Works had to send cyanotoxin samples to a laboratory in Florida, and wait up to three days for results.  As a result of the events in Toledo, Ohio, recently released EPA guidelines for cyanotoxins, and the increasing occurrence of cyanobacteria blooms in source waters, Des Moines Water Works has begun a more aggressive testing regimen for the presence of harmful cyanotoxins when elevated cyanobacteria levels are present in raw water sources.  Des Moines Water Works recently invested in instrumentation that will allow staff to monitor for microcystin and cylindrospermospin, per EPA recommendations, as well as two additional known cyanotoxins – Anatoxin and Saxitoxin. Des Moines Water Works now routinely samples three times per week during the warmer months of the year, and more frequently when necessary.

With increased monitoring, Des Moines Water Works has detected cyantoxins in our raw water sources.  While the presence of cyanotoxins has been detected in our raw water sources, the treatment processes have adequately prevented the toxins from reaching finished drinking water.  Des Moines Water Works staff treats for unfavorable tastes, odors, and toxins by dispersing powdered activated carbon throughout the water during the presedimentation phase of treatment.  Chlorination of the water also helps remove or destroy bad tastes, odors, and cyanotoxins.

Strategic water treatment, testing, and federal regulation of cyanotoxins are worthy, but a remedy at the source of the contaminant is more urgent. The only viable option to curtail the presence of algae that causes toxins to infiltrate our drinking water is changing upstream land practices, notably industrial agricultural production.

Short of meaningful and measurable water quality improvements in Iowa, Des Moines Water Works, and all Iowans who wish to enjoy water recreation, have no control of algal and cyanotoxins in the Raccoon or Des Moines Rivers, and must react to what flows into the river intakes. The presence of both elevated cyanobacterial levels and related cyanotoxins in Iowa’s lakes and rivers is another reminder of deteriorated water quality in the state of Iowa – forcing water utilities and water recreation enthusiasts to be on alert.

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November 23, 2015

Water Works Memorial Contributions

Fountain and purple flowersFishing in the ponds, picnicking under the Arie den Boer Arboretum crabapple blossoms, hiking in Denman Woods or horseback riding along the bridle trails – just as Water Works Park offers a perfect setting for a variety of activities, so too can it serve as a perfect gift for a variety of occasions.

A memorial gift to the urban forest within Water Works Park is a unique and thoughtful way to honor a loved one, celebrate weddings, anniversaries, graduations, or just to let someone know you’re thinking of them. Your tax-deductible gift will help maintain and sustain Water Works Park as one of America’s largest urban parks for the enjoyment of all – now and for future generations.

There are two categories of gifts to the urban forest within Water Works Park: Tribute Gift (in honor/memory of) and Donation Gift (general contribution). Tribute recipients or their families will receive a customized acknowledgment card, without reference to amount, to notify them of your gift. All donors and tribute recipients will be recognized on our website, unless you wish to remain anonymous.

Making a tribute or donation gift to Water Works Park is easy. Visit www.dmww.com/parks-events/memorial-contributions and use the online form or download a printable form to fill out and mail with contribution.  For additional information, please contact Des Moines Water Works at (515) 283-8702.

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November 9, 2015

2016 Budget and Water Rates

The Board of Water Works Trustees has proposed Des Moines Water Works’ 2016 calendar year budget, which includes revenue from 2016 rate increases for Des Moines, total service, and wholesale water customers.  The 10 percent rate increase for all customers, approved by the Board in October, equates to an increase of about $2.55 per month for a four-person household (7,500 gallons) inside Des Moines.

The rate increases will result in approximately $3.2 million of increased water revenue for 2016. As the Board moves toward greater investment in the water utility’s infrastructure, rate increases will be more consistent with the challenges of producing and delivering quality water.

The proposed 2016 budget includes $59.4 million of operating revenue. Operating expenses are budgeted at $40.6 million, while capital infrastructure costs are budgeted at $22.2 million.

The Board of Water Works Trustees will hold a public hearing for the proposed 2016 budget on Tuesday, November 24, 2015, at 3:30 p.m. at Des Moines Water Works’ general office, located at 2201 George Flagg Parkway, in Des Moines.

New water rates will go into effect April 1, 2016. For a complete listing of Des Moines Water Works’ 2016 water rate structure, visit www.dmww.com/about-us/announcements.

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August 31, 2015

Des Moines Water Works will Host Regional Infor EAM User Conference

Logo-Infor-1-Des Moines Water Works will host a Regional Infor Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) User Conference on November 19. Des Moines Water Works was chosen out of the many EAM customers because of its world-class EAM implementation and facilities.

What makes Des Moines Water Works’ EAM implementation world class?

  • Des Moines Water Works’ geographic information system (GIS) integration is the largest of any of Infor’s 15,000 customers worldwide.
  • Des Moines Water Works’ integration with PeopleSoft and ADP are also noteworthy accomplishments that eliminate duplicate data entry.
  • Integration with supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) allows Des Moines Water Works operations to start work orders from the SCADA screen. Equipment run times are imported into EAM to schedule preventive maintenance.
  • Integration with Motors@Work flags potential electrical and system issues based on real-time data from SCADA.
  • Utility bill management analyzes each of our monthly utility bills – around 50 in all – and provides information such as increasing consumption, errors, and anomalies.
  • Energy data uploads to the Department of Energy’s EnergyStar Portfolio Manager gives Des Moines Water Works valuable information on how the utility compares to other water utilities across the country.
  • Des Moines Water Works’ field communications are the envy of not just other EAM users, but other businesses with field service/customer support. Complete corporate network access anywhere a 4G LTE connection is available is truly world class.

Des Moines Water Works’ partners are the keystone to successful implementation and integration of EAM. Stratum Consulting Partners has been with Des Moines Water Works for many years, dating back to the MP2 days in Water Production. Stratum has been a partner throughout Des Moines Water Works’ entire implementation and continues to provide highly capable resources that know how to get the job done.

Asynerlytics, LLC, partnered with Des Moines Water Works to integrate energy and reliability components that will provide ongoing world class energy and asset management structure within EAM. This structure will be a key component in Des Moines Water Works’ Energy Management System as the utility progresses to ISO 50001 and Department of Energy Superior Energy Performance certifications.

Infor’s Dale Wilkinson and Asynerlytics’ Bill Miller were instrumental in bringing the conference to Des Moines Water Works.

Infor is handling event details and additional information will be available soon.

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August 20, 2015

Plans for Third Aquifer Storage and Recovery Well

ASRDes Moines Water Works has utilized aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells as sources of water since 2008.  These wells are installed deep into the Jordan Aquifer and are used to store treated water that is needed when water demand is high.  When water demand is low, mainly during winter months, treated water is injected into the wells which displaces the native Jordan water around the wells. A total of 270 million gallons can be stored in an ASR well during the winter months when Des Moines Water Works has excess water treatment capacity.  In summer months, during higher water demand, the drinking water is pumped out of the ASR well and into the water distribution system for use by customers.  The wells pump for a total of 90 days to recover the 270 million gallons put into the wells.  ASR wells can be constructed for about one-third the cost of adding capacity to an existing water treatment plant.  Des Moines Water Works currently operates two ASR wells, and plans for a third are underway.

West Des Moines Water Works, a wholesale customer of Des Moines Water Works, desires to purchase additional water from Des Moines Water Works in order to meet the needs of a large-demand customer, Microsoft Corporation, who is developing a facility in the southeast portion of West Des Moines Water Works’ service area.  In order to meet the water demand requirements of Microsoft, West Des Moines Water Works, City of West Des Moines and Des Moines Water Works have agreed to a joint project to construct a 3.0 million gallon per day (mgd) ASR well. The City of West Des Moines will pay the estimated $3,591,132 construction cost of the ASR well.  Des Moines Water Works will contribute a 5.28 acre parcel of land it already owns. Des Moines Water Works will be responsible for the design of the new Army Post Road ASR facility and will administer and oversee its construction. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. Des Moines Water Works will own the ASR upon completion, will have full operational control of the constructed assets, and will retain the right to use the ASR to serve customers, including but not limited to Microsoft.

 

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July 13, 2015

Proper Disposal of Prescription Drugs

pill-bottleProper disposal of prescription drugs is important to water quality.  Unwanted  prescription drugs thrown down the drain or toilet can end up in water ways, potentially harming aquatic life, recreational activities and the quality of source water used for your drinking water.

Additionally, leftover medications are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse, and abuse. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.

Always refer to printed material accompanying your medication for specific instructions; however disposal methods can include:

  • Drop-off at an Iowa Pharmacy Association TakeAway location. Visit www.iarx.org/takeaway to find a participating TakeAway pharmacy.
  • Take unused medications to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office drug drop off box in the field headquarters’ lobby, located at 6023 NE 14th Street, Des Moines.
  • Dispose in the garbage by adding something to the medication to make it unusable or unpalatable (kitty litter to liquid medications, glue to pills, etc.). Package in an obscure container or non-transparent bag and place it in the trash.

 

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June 25, 2015

Understanding Your Water Meter

Your water meter is read each month to determine your water consumption. Meters are typically located in your basement, although most residential and commercial meters are read by remote equipment which does not require Des Moines Water Works staff to enter your home or business. Each month, your meter read is displayed on the bottom of your statement.  If your meter is easily accessible, you can read the water meter yourself to verify the reads against your statement.

The readings are displayed like the odometer on your car and read from left to right.  Most meters in Des Moines measure in cubic feet, and typically reflect six digits.  The first four digits on the meter are shown verbatim on your statement (exception: any leading zeroes are omitted).  However, Des Moines Water Works bills only in hundred cubic feet increments, so the last two digits on your statement will always be “00,” regardless of what is shown on your meter.

Layout 1_Page 1If you notice your water bill is the same amount some months, it is not uncommon and can occur especially for customers who are fairly consistent water users. It occurs because Des Moines Water Works bills in 100 cubic foot increments. Although your actual water consumption does in fact vary from month to month, the meter must “roll over” to a new hundred cubic feet before you are charged for the last 100 cubic feet.  For example, if your meter read is 173934 as shown in the illustration, you would not be charged for any additional consumption until the meter rolls over to the next hundred cubic feet, which would be a meter read of 174000.   It is important to note that 100 cubic feet is equivalent to 748 gallons, which means that if you are within 748 gallons of last month’s consumption, your charges could be identical despite slightly different usage from one month to the next.

Des Moines Water Works’ automated radio frequency meter reading equipment in most of our service areas allows Des Moines Water Works to receive two meter reads each day, and these reads are available to you via your online account at www.dmww.com.

If your consumption is higher than expected, you can monitor your daily reads at any time by querying your meter reading data on our website.  If, after monitoring your daily consumption, you believe you may have a leak, call a customer service representative at (515) 283-8700 to discuss what may be causing the high consumption.

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June 1, 2015

2015 Consumer Confidence Report

Des Moines Water Works is committed to delivering safe, affordable and abundant drinking water to our customers. Safe drinking water is treated water that has been tested for harmful and potentially harmful substances and has met or exceeded drinking water quality standards set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Iowa. The EPA sets drinking water standards to define the limits of contaminants considered safe for drinking water. These levels are based on studies of the health effects associated with each contaminant and include a sufficient safety margin to ensure that water meeting these standards is safe for nearly everyone to drink. The Consumer Confidence Report is an annual water quality report that helps customers understand the quality and safety of tap water provided by Des Moines Water Works. The current Consumer Confidence Report is now available at: http://www.dmww.com/upl/documents/library/2015ccr.pdf. If you would like a printed copy of the Consumer Confidence Report mailed to you or have any questions about your drinking water, please contact a Customer Service Representative at (515) 283-8700.

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May 19, 2015

LAUNCH Your Summer at Water Works Park

LAUNCH_logo_CMYKThe public is invited to LAUNCH, a new, annual and FREE event aimed at drawing new and current users into Water Works Park to explore its many recreational opportunities. Join us at Water Works Park on Saturday, May 30, from 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. for multiple activities that engage you in the park, including canoeing, an art installation on the river, music, food trucks and craft beer, bike trail expeditions, soccer clinics, hiking, bike valet and much more.

The event launches two major regional efforts celebrating our rivers: the launch of a regional water trails plan and the implementation of the Water Works Park Master Plan.

The event features a riverside unveiling of a new, temporary public art installation by New York-based artist Mary Mattingly that calls attention to the joy of reconnecting to our waterways. The featured speaker will be Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp at 1:00 p.m.

The event is sponsored by Scheels, MidAmerican Energy, and Des Moines Water Works Park Foundation. The public art work is sponsored by Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation, the Iowa Arts Council and the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Visit www.dmwwpf.org for more details.

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May 12, 2015

Benefits from Water Works Park’s Urban Forest

Water Works ParkAlthough many of us know Water Works Park as a natural playground for people and animals, the Park’s primary mission is to serve as the first water source for Des Moines Water Works in meeting the drinking water needs of 500,000 central Iowans. To do that, Des Moines Water Works’ forefathers had the insight to acquire land upstream of the Raccoon River to protect its water source. Today, Des Moines Water Works staff maintains a large urban forest that makes up the 1,500 acres of Water Works Park.

Urban forests play an important role in supporting and improving the ecology in urban areas. A tree’s shade and beauty contributes to the community’s quality of life and softens the often hard appearance of streetscapes and urban landscapes. Public trees, when properly maintained, provide economic, environmental, and social benefits, including temperature moderation, reduction of air pollutants, energy conservation, and increased property values.

A recently completed inventory of the urban forest in Water Works Park is the first phase of a multi-year effort led by Tree Des Moines to assess the health of trees along capital city streets and parklands.

The recent assessment, conducted by Davey Resource Group, included trees, stumps and planting sites within the mowed and manicured areas of Water Works Park. Collectively, the trees included in the assessment have an appraised value of $6,227,597, and provide environmental benefits valued at nearly $370,000 a year.

“The results of the Water Works inventory show just how much value trees add to our city and neighborhoods,” said CJ Stephens, president of Tree Des Moines, a volunteer-driven nonprofit dedicated to protecting and expanding the urban forest. “This proves that every dollar we invest in our urban forest is money that comes back to us in so many critically important ways, both economic and environmental.”

The inventory outcomes are important, and implementation of the maintenance recommendations will enhance public safety and the benefits trees provide to the community.

The recently completed tree inventory is a key-planning tool that will help Des Moines Water Works establish a data-driven program for tree care, and aid in more accurately determining budget, staff, and equipment needs.

The partnership with Tree Des Moines also comes at a pivotal time for Water Works Park.

“Through Trees Des Moines’ leadership, Davey Resources performed a professionally assessed and digitized collection of data involving our Parks’ publically enjoyed trees,” Bill Stowe, Des Moines Water Works CEO and General Manager, said. “This asset inventory for a cornerstone of the Water Works Park is particularly timely given our interest in better managing all aspects of Water Works Park, and working with the Des Moines Water Works Park Foundation in realizing the Master Plan to drive Water Works Parks’ future improvements.”

Tree inventories are about more than simply counting trees. As Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie points out.

“The City of Des Moines, along with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and environmental experts at Iowa State University, agree that a tree inventory is essential in moving forward with plan to maximize Des Moines’ tree resources through proper management,” said Cownie.

The assessments provide detailed information about species, health, and maintenance needs, among other information. A tree inventory is also needed to help Des Moines combat current threats to forestry health such as emerald ash borer, oak wilt and bur oak blight. Over the next few years, these threats are expected to significantly reduce Des Moines’ tree canopy, which carries implications for quality of life in the city’s neighborhoods.

“The Water Works Park inventory proves it is worthwhile to keep pushing ahead with plans to inventory city-owned trees in Des Moines,” Stephens said. “Trees are vital green infrastructure, and knowing more about what we have in Des Moines will help us do a much better job of managing the resources well into the future.”

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May 5, 2015

Clean Water Act Litigation FAQ

Drainage DistrictA major conduit of nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River watershed is the artificial subsurface drainage system infrastructure, such as those created and managed by drainage districts. Des Moines Water Works recently filed a federal complaint against the Boards of Supervisors of Sac County, Buena Vista County, and Calhoun County, in their capacities as trustees of 10 drainage districts, for the discharge of nitrate pollutants into the Raccoon River.

Why is Nitrate Pollution a Problem?

  • Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Des Moines Water Works is obligated to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standards for the maximum contaminate level (MCL) in its finished drinking water. The MCL standard for nitrate is 10 mg/L. The health risks associated with nitrate contamination above MCL include blue baby syndrome and endocrine disruption. In addition to public health risks to drinking water, nitrate pollution also contributes to the hypoxic conditions in public waters, including the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone.”
  • Des Moines Water Works’ mission is to provide safe, abundant and affordable water to our customers. While Des Moines Water Works has invested millions of dollars in capital infrastructure and has developed strategies to manage high nitrate levels, record nitrate peaks in source waters have threatened and continue to threaten the security of the water supply and the ability of Des Moines Water Works to deliver safe and reliable water, while operating with fiscal discipline.
  • The current denitrification technology is outdated and cannot continue to operate with rising nitrate levels and increased customer demand. Continued high nitrate concentrations will require future capital investments of $76-183 million to remove the pollutant and provide safe drinking water to a growing central Iowa.

Why a Lawsuit?

  • Des Moines Water Works filed a complaint in Federal District Court – Northern District of Iowa, Western Division, on March 16, 2015.
  • The complaint seeks to declare the named drainage districts are “point sources,” not exempt from regulation, and are required to have a permit under federal and Iowa law.
  • The complaint states that the drainage districts have violated and continue to be in violation of the Clean Water Act and Chapter 455B, Code of Iowa, and demands the drainage districts take all necessary actions, including ceasing all discharges of nitrate that are not authorized by an National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
  • In addition, damages are demanded to Des Moines Waters to compensate for the harm caused by the drainage districts unlawful discharge of nitrate, assess civil penalties, and award litigation costs and reasonable attorney fees to Des Moines Water Works as authorized by law.
  • Des Moines Water Works’ mission is to provide safe, abundant and affordable water to our customers. Des Moines Water Works is fighting for the protection of customers’ right to safe drinking water. Through this legal process, Des Moines Water Works hopes to reduce long-term health risks and unsustainable economic costs to provide safe drinking water to our customers, via permit and regulation of drainage districts as pollutant sources.
  • Continued insistence from state leaders that the voluntary approach of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is working does not give solace to the 500,000 central Iowans who must now pay to remove pollution from their drinking water.

Why Sac, Buena Vista, and Calhoun Counties?

  • Buena Vista, Calhoun, and Sac Counties are in the Des Moines Lobe. There are hundreds of drainage districts in these three counties. Under Iowa law, drainage districts are responsible for constructing, administering, and maintaining drainage infrastructure. Within each drainage district, a network of pipes and ditches move groundwater and agricultural pollutants quickly into our drinking water sources.
  • Recent water monitoring by Des Moines Water Works at 72 sample sites in Buena Vista, Sac, and Calhoun Counties have shown nitrate levels as high as 39.2 mg/L in groundwater discharged by drainages districts. This is 4 times the federally required Safe Drinking Water regulatory limit of 10 mg/L.
  • Laws require that “point sources” discharging into rivers must have permits under the NPDES.  Because drainage districts transport nitrate pollution through a system of channels and pipes, they should be recognized and held accountable like every other “point source” contributor. NPDES permits have been successful nationwide in controlling pollution caused by industrial waste and sanitary sewer discharge.
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April 7, 2015

Maffitt Reservoir Boat Permits

Maffitt Lake shorelineLast year, over 200 canoe, kayak and paddleboard enthusiasts enjoyed the beautiful water and views at Maffitt Reservoir and Park. Interested users must purchase an annual permit to launch their watercraft at Maffitt Reservoir. The annual boat permit can be purchased for $20.00 at Des Moines Water Works’ General Office, located at 2201 George Flagg Parkway, in Des Moines. No motors or sails of any kind are allowed, which helps ensure the lake remains a high quality water source for the area’s drinking water supply.

Dale Maffitt Reservoir is a 200-acre lake that sits amongst the tall oaks overlooking Des Moines Water Works’ L.D. McMullen Water Treatment Plant. The lake, primarily located in Polk County, also has corners that reach into Warren, Dallas and Madison Counties. The reservoir was constructed in the early 1940s, as a backup water source and named in honor of then General Manager of Des Moines Water Works,Dale Maffitt. In 2000, Des Moines Water Works began operating the L.D. McMullen Water Treatment Plant at Maffitt Reservoir in an effort to produce enough water for Des Moines and surrounding areas’ growing
population. For decades, nature lovers and anglers have enjoyed the serenity of the lake, as ducks, geese, river otter and a multitude of fish species call it home.

Park hours are 7:00 am-8:00 pm (Standard Time) and 6:00 am-9:00 pm (Daylight Savings Time). Take Army Post Road west, across Interstate 35 and follow the signs.

For more information on the use of canoes, kayaks and paddleboards on Maffitt Reservoir, please contact Des Moines Water Works at (515) 283-8700 or visit www.dmww.com/parks-events/maffitt-reservoir.

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March 31, 2015

E-statement Rebate

credit card onlineEnroll in E-statements and receive a $5.00 rebate on your next water bill. To sign up, visit www.dmww.com to set up an online account. Once logged into your account, simply select Go Paperless from the top green navigation bar.

There are many advantages to choosing E-statements. They are convenient, environmentally friendly, help prevent identity theft and they help reduce costs, which in turn, helps keep water rates low.

For more information on E-statements, visit www.dmww.com or contact a Customer Service Representative at (515) 283-8700.

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March 24, 2015

Make the Call Before You Dig!

DSC_2038Do you have projects this spring or summer requiring digging in your yard?  Before you dig, be sure to include the most important step in your project plans: IOWA ONE CALL. Iowa One Call services are FREE and telephones are answered 24 hours a day. Utilities, including Des Moines Water Works, have 48 hours after you request to locate any underground facilities they have in the area and mark their location with flags or painted lines. After the excavation area is marked, you will be able to avoid any underground services, preventing a loss of vital services and added expenses for repairs.

Simply call 811 before you dig. It’s fast, it’s free, it’s the law! You can also access important information at www.iowaonecall.com.

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March 17, 2015

Water Quality at Home: “Cloudy Water”

Cloudy WaterThroughout the year, Des Moines Water Works receives calls from customers who say their tap water appears milky white or cloudy. In the majority of cases, the cloudy water is caused by harmless air bubbles, but sometimes it can indicate a plumbing issue. Fortunately, determining the cause is as simple as filling up a clear glass with water and setting it on the counter.

  • If the water clears from the bottom of the glass to the top, the water has air bubbles. This reaction sometimes occurs when cold water from underground mains enters warmer pipes inside your home. Since cold water holds more dissolved air than warm water, as water warms, air may be released as tiny bubbles when a tap is turned on. The water is safe to drink, the discoloring is just the result of a harmless reaction.
  • If the water in the glass clears from the top-down, and white or grey particles settle to the bottom, this may indicate a water plumbing issue. Call Des Moines Water Works at (515) 283-8700 and staff will assist in diagnosing the problem and provide a list of qualified plumbers.

For more information on water quality, visit www.dmww.com/water-quality.

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March 10, 2015

Board of Water Works Trustees Votes to Pursue Lawsuit Against Drainage Districts

The Board of Water Works Trustees of the City of Des Moines voted today to give direction to Des Moines Water Works staff and counsel to proceed with a citizens suit under the Clean Water Act and Iowa Code Chapter 455B, and other relief against the Sac County Board of Supervisors, Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors and Calhoun County Board of Supervisors, in their capacities as trustees of 10 drainage districts, for the discharge of nitrate pollutants into the Raccoon River, and failure to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Des Moines Water Works is a regional water utility providing drinking water to approximately 500,000 Iowans, drawing most of its raw water supply from the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Des Moines Water Works is obligated to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standards for the maximum contaminate level (MCL) in its finished drinking water. The MCL standard for nitrate is 10 mg/L. The health risks associated with nitrate contamination above MCL include blue baby syndrome and endocrine disruption. In addition to public health risks to drinking water, nitrate pollution also causes the development of hypoxic conditions in public waters, including the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone.”

Recent upstream water monitoring by Des Moines Water Works at 72 sample sites in Sac County has shown nitrate levels as high as 39.2 mg/L in groundwater discharged by drainages districts. These extraordinarily high nitrate levels correlate with measurements by the United States Geologic Survey (USGS), a scientific agency in the United States government at monitoring sites along the Raccoon River.

“Despite the degraded condition of our source water, Des Moines Water Works continues to produce safe drinking water for our customers.  Our water remains safe for customers because we have invested millions of dollars of rate payers’ money in developing the capital infrastructure to manage high nitrate levels. Record nitrate concentrations in the Raccoon River have threatened, and continue to threaten, the water supply for our customers who rely on Des Moines Water Works for safe and affordable drinking water,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager, Des Moines Water Works.

“Filing this lawsuit comes after years of effort by Des Moines Water Works officials to participate in initiatives that consider the needs of all Iowans. Unfortunately, Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy fails to adequately address the interests of the people DMWW serves,” said Graham Gillette, Board of Water Works Trustees Chair. “The Board of Trustees has a responsibility to safeguard the water supply and protect our ratepayers’ financial interest. If it takes going to court to enforce laws written to protect citizen interests, so be it, and if it means working to develop new methods of problem solving collaboration, even better.”

A major source of nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River watershed is the artificial subsurface drainage system infrastructure, such as those created and managed by drainage districts. The drainage systems consist of pipes, ditches and other conduits that are point sources, which transport high concentrations of nitrate quickly by groundwater to the nearest waterway, bypassing natural absorption and denitrification processes that would otherwise protect the watersheds.

“In order for Des Moines Water Works to continue to provide clean and safe drinking water and to protect the state of Iowa and the United States from further environmental and health risks, the discharge of nitrate from drainage districts must be addressed,” said Stowe. “We are not seeking to change agriculture methods, but rather challenging government to better manage and control drainage infrastructure in order to improve water quality within the state. Because drainage districts transport nitrate pollution through a system of channels and pipes, they should be recognized and held accountable like any other point source polluter.”

“Point sources” discharging into water ways have permits under the NPDES.  NPDES permits have been successful nationwide in controlling pollution caused by industrial waste and sanitary sewer discharge.

Both the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers experienced extremely high concentrations in the spring and summer of 2013, fall of 2014, and winter of 2015.  Nitrate levels above the MCL increases the cost of drinking water treatment for more Des Moines Water Works customers. In 2013, when nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers were at a record high, Des Moines Water Works incurred approximately $900,000 in treatment costs and lost revenues. On December 4, 2014, the utility began operating the nitrate removal facility continuously for 97 days – unprecedented in the winter months – for a total of $540,000 in operations and additional expenses. Moreover, record high nitrate concentrations will require future capital investments of $76-183 million to remove the pollutant and provide safe drinking water to a growing central Iowa.

A Notice of Intent to Sue was sent by the Board of Water Works Trustees on January 9, 2015 to the three County Board of Supervisors. The required 60 day notification under the citizen suit provision of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly known as the Clean Water Act) and Iowa Code Chapter, communicated the intent of the Board of Water Works Trustees to sue the three Iowa counties for discharge of nitrate into the Raccoon River by point sources without the permits required by law.

Since the filing of the Notice of Intent to Sue, Des Moines Water Works representatives have met with numerous officials and stakeholders, but no means of resolution of the issues has been proposed.

A defense fund has been established to offset costs incurred with the Clean Water Act legal proceedings. Individuals who wish to make a contribution may do so by mailing contributions payable to Des Moines Water Works, 2201 George Flagg Parkway, Des Moines, Iowa 50321.

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March 5, 2015

2015 Environmental Impact Awards

Envir. Impact Award LogoIn central Iowa, we are very fortunate to have many organizations that make environmentally sustainable practices a priority. To recognize their efforts and identify the positive impact they make on our communities, the Environmental Impact Awards were established.

Partners Make the Environmental Impact Awards Possible
Des Moines Water Works joins Greater Des Moines Partnership, Center on Sustainable Communities (COSC) and Metro Waste Authority to recognize local organizations and leaders dedicated to sustainability in the Greater Des Moines area. If you know, or are associated with an organization that should be recognized for their efforts, please consider submitting an award application for the Environmental Impact Awards.

Applications Available Online

You can nominate an organization in these areas:

Best water management practices will receive a special honor.

Applications for the Environmental Impact Awards will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 11.

2015 Award Recipients Announced on Earth Day
Winners will be announced on Earth Day, April 22. Award recipients will be honored at a luncheon on May 20, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at the Windsor Heights Community Center in Colby Park.

For more information, contact the Greater Des Moines Partnership at (515) 286-4950.

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January 8, 2015

Board of Water Works Trustees Issue a Notice of Intent to Sue for Polluted Drinking Water

The Board of Water Works has voted unanimously to issue a notice of intent to sue, under the Clean Water Act and Iowa Code Chapter 455B, to the Sac County Board of Supervisors, Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors and Calhoun County Board of Supervisors in their role as governing authority for 10 drainage districts that are discharging pollutants into the Raccoon River. The affected drainage districts are:

  • Drainage District 32
  • Drainage District 42
  • Drainage District 65
  • Drainage District 79
  • Drainage District 81
  • Drainage District 83
  • Drainage Districts 86
  • Joint Drainage Districts 2-51
  • Joint Drainage Districts 19-26
  • Joint Drainage Districts 64-105

Copies of the notice have also been sent to Governor Terry Branstad; Chuck Gipp, Director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources; Karl Brooks, Region VII Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture; and Tom Vilsack, United States Secretary of Agriculture.

The notice of intent to sue is a 60 day notification under the citizen suit provision of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly known as the Clean Water Act) and Iowa Code Chapter 455B.  The notice communicates the intent of the Board of Water Works Trustees to sue for discharge of pollutants into the Raccoon River by point sources without the permits required by law.

Des Moines Water Works uses both the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers as water sources and has experienced extremely high concentrations of nitrate in both rivers in the spring and summer of 2013 and the fall and winter of 2014.  Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrate is 10 mg/L.  This standard is set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Des Moines Water Works is legally obligated to provide clean and safe drinking water that meets this MCL standard.

Recent water monitoring by Des Moines Water Works at 72 sample sites in Sac County has shown nitrate levels as high as 39.2 mg/L in groundwater discharged by drainages districts. These extraordinarily high nitrate levels correlate with measurements by the United States Geologic Survey (USGS), a scientific agency in the United States government at monitoring sites along the Raccoon River.

Water monitoring and scientific analysis have shown that the cause of the high nitrate is the extensive system of drainage infrastructure created and maintained by drainage districts in the Raccoon and Des Moines River watersheds.  These drainage systems quickly transport nitrate by groundwater to the nearest waterway, bypassing natural absorption and de-nitrification processes that would otherwise protect the watersheds.

“Drainage districts are a source of high nitrate concentration in our water supply and the Sac County Board of Supervisors have failed to take any meaningful action to protect downstream users from unsafe levels of nitrate introduced into the Raccoon River,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager, Des Moines Water Works.  “Des Moines Water Works is taking this decisive action to underscore that the degraded condition of our state’s source waters is a very real problem, not just to Des Moines Water Works, but to the 500,000 customers we serve, as well as to Iowans generally who have a right of use and enjoyment of the water commonwealth of our State.  The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a failure. Since its announcement, we have suffered through record nitrate concentrations in both the summer of 2013 and winter of 2014.  It is simply not a credible approach to protect the public health of Iowans who rely on safe drinking water every day. We can no longer rely on voluntarism, rhetoric, and speculation to protect the waters of our state.”

The EPA has set the maximum contaminant level of protection based on the best available science to prevent potential health problems. Nitrate levels above the MCL are a public health risk. Particularly at risk are infants below six months of age who, if left untreated, could become seriously ill or die.

Nitrate levels above the MCL increases the cost of drinking water treatment for more than 500,000 central Iowa consumers. Standard Des Moines Water Works treatment processes do not remove nitrate from drinking water. Des Moines Water Works staff monitors nitrate concentrations in the source waters and activates a costly nitrate removal facility when necessary in order to produce a safe water supply meeting the MCL.  In 2013, when nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers were at a record high, Des Moines Water Works incurred approximately $900,000 in treatment costs and lost revenues. Moreover, record high nitrate concentrations demand significant future capital investments to remove this pollutant and provide safe drinking water to a growing central Iowa.

“We are not seeking to change agriculture methods, but rather challenging government to better manage and control drainage infrastructure in order to improve water quality within the state. Water quality improvements in Iowa demand accountability for protecting against water degradation by all sectors, including local governments and agriculture,” said Stowe. “Because drainage districts transport nitrate pollution through a system of channels and pipes, they should be recognized and held accountable like any other point source contributor.”

If the named drainage districts do not cease to discharge pollutants without permits or act within 60 days to correct the ongoing violations, Des Moines Water Works will seek relief in federal court under the Clean Water Act and Iowa Code citizen suit provisions.  These laws require that “point sources” discharging into rivers have permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).  NPDES permits have been successful nationwide in controlling pollution caused by industrial waste and sanitary sewer discharge.

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January 7, 2015

Winter Source Water Problems

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which Congress passed on December 16, 1974, directing EPA to implement a series of regulations and standards to protect public drinking water from source to tap. The law was amended in 1986 and again in 1996 to include additional actions to protect drinking water, including those that recognize the needs for source water protection, training for water system operators, funding for water system improvements, and public information about the quality of treated water to inform water consumers and hold water delivery systems accountable.

Continued high nitrate levels in Des Moines Water Works’ source waters – the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers – forced Des Moines Water Works to activate its nitrate removal facility early December 2014. On December 16, 2014, the 40th anniversary of the SDWA, the denitrification facility remained in use in order to ensure Des Moines Water Works’ finished drinking water was safe for consumption, as defined by the SDWA.

In addition, Des Moines Water Works was forced to use emergency water storage from Maffitt Reservoir at the L.D. McMullen Water Treatment Plant. Water at Maffitt Reservoir is considered emergency storage water for use during exceptional instances of water quantity and water quality. Use of the emergency water today, reduces the amount of storage water available for use during high customer demand periods.

“Des Moines Water Works staff has exercised extensive efforts to reduce nitrate levels to an acceptable level, as prescribed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager, Des Moines Water Works. “Because nitrate continues to be introduced in the watershed at high levels, we are forced to use emergency storage water, in addition to running the nitrate removal facility, in order to maintain delivery of safe drinking water to our customers.”

The EPA’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrate in finished drinking water is 10 mg/L.  The levels seen in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers last fall and this winter are unprecedented for this time of the year. The monthly averages are as follows:

 

Raccoon River               Des Moines River

September 2014           11.89 mg/L                          7.20 mg/L

October 2014                 13.23 mg/L                         11.15 mg/L

November 2014           13.43 mg/L                         11.96 mg/L

December 2014            12.56 mg/L                         11.14 mg/L                  

Des Moines Water Works remains committed to fighting for cleaner source water on behalf of the 500,000 central Iowans Des Moines Water Works is pleased to serve.

According to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, approximately 92% of nitrate loads enter our water resources through agricultural sources that are not currently being subject to any mandatory regulations, despite longstanding legal mandates to address such pollution.

“While Des Moines Water Works continues to incur costs and reduce available water storage, polluters of the watershed are not regulated,” said Stowe. “This is a public health issue for our customers. We cannot continue to meet the increasing water demand of our customers without regulation of pollutants in our source water.”

In order to ensure that tap water is safe to drink, the EPA prescribes regulations limiting the amount of nitrate levels in water provided by public water systems. The greatest health risk posed by high nitrate concentrations is for infants under six months of age. Nitrate can transform into nitrite in the infant’s body, reducing the ability of the baby’s blood to carry oxygen. This may result in Blue Baby Syndrome. Des Moines Water Works’ finished drinking water nitrate concentration is currently below the level which is indicated to cause these health implications.  If you are caring for an infant, you may wish to seek advice from your healthcare provider.

Despite the high levels of nitrate in the source waters, Des Moines Water Works’ finished drinking water remains safe for consumption.

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December 4, 2014

Des Moines Water Works Forced to Start the Nitrate Removal Facility

Nitrate Removal FacilityContinued high nitrate levels in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers have forced Des Moines Water Works to activate its nitrate removal facility in order to keep finished drinking water safe for consumption. Nitrate levels in September, October and November were the highest ever experienced in those months and have required extraordinary efforts by Des Moines Water Works staff.  Activation of the nitrate removal facility is the last step available to maintain safe drinking water.

Current nitrate levels are 12.62 milligrams per liter (mg/L) in the Raccoon River and 11.63 mg/L in the Des Moines River. By means of extensive and expensive water treatment, Des Moines Water Works’ finished drinking water currently has a nitrate level of 8.79 mg/L. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrate in finished drinking water is 10 mg/L.  Despite the high levels of nitrate in the source waters, Des Moines Water Works’ finished drinking water remains safe for consumption, due to the activation and operation of the costly nitrate removal facility.

Des Moines Water Works began using the nitrate removal facility today to keep finished drinking water nitrate levels below the Safe Drinking Water standard. Prior to starting up the facility, Des Moines Water Works staff managed the fall/early winter high nitrate situation through blending of various water sources, including water from the gallery system at the Fleur Drive Treatment Plant (shallow ground water collector system), Maffitt Reservoir, Crystal Lake and Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells.

“Des Moines Water Works staff has employed extensive efforts to mitigate nitrate levels, but because nitrate continues to be introduced in the watershed at high levels, we were left with no alternative but to activate the nitrate removal facility,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager, Des Moines Water Works.

According to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, approximately 92% of nitrate loads enter our water resources through sources that are not currently being subject to any mandatory regulations, despite longstanding legal mandates to address such pollution.

“Continued but unfounded insistence from state leaders that the voluntary approach of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is working does not give solace to the 500,000 central Iowans who must now pay to remove pollution from their drinking water,” said Stowe. “Further, the persistent argument that ‘weather is to blame’ for this situation is wrong.  Science proves weather and other natural conditions do not create excessive nitrate concentrations. Intensive land use and extensive agricultural drainage systems are the source of the high nitrate in our source waters.”

Raccoon River               Des Moines River

September 2014           11.61 mg/L                          7.20 mg/L

October 2014                 13.23 mg/L                         11.15 mg/L

November 2014           13.25 mg/L                         11.88 mg/L

Record nitrate levels were reached in 2013, when the Raccoon River reported 24 mg/L and the Des Moines River reported 17.87 mg/L. Throughout the spring and summer of 2013, Des Moines Water Works operated the nitrate removal facility for 74 days, at approximately $900,000 in treatment costs and lost revenues passed on to ratepayers.

In order to ensure that tap water is safe to drink, the EPA prescribes regulations limiting the amount of nitrate levels in water provided by public water systems. The greatest health risk posed by high nitrate concentrations is for infants under six months of age. Nitrate can transform into nitrite in the infant’s body, reducing the ability of the baby’s blood to carry oxygen. This may result in Blue Baby Syndrome. Des Moines Water Works’ finished drinking water nitrate concentration is currently below the level which is indicated to cause these health implications.  If you are caring for an infant, you may wish to seek advice from your healthcare provider.

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December 1, 2014

Understanding Water Quality Warnings

Des Moines Water Works constantly strives to maintain water quality and safety throughout the distribution system. In certain situations, such as major water main breaks, quality of water in the system can become compromised. In these situations, Des Moines Water Works may issue a boil advisory or a boil order. Des Moines Water Works will notify customers within the affected area via the Code RED emergency notification system, and the media, as necessary.

Similar to severe weather threats, it’s important to understand the meaning of the water quality warnings.

A boil advisory (think of a tornado watch) is a precautionary measure issued in situations where a water main break or a large demand such as a fire has created low pressure in the distribution system, but there is no reason to believe water quality has been compromised. In these situations, as a precaution, customers are encouraged to boil water that will be consumed or used for food preparation. Water should be boiled for two minutes and allowed to cool before use.

A boil order (think of a tornado warning) is issued in a situation, such as a major water main break, where there is significant potential for the quality of the water in the distribution system to be compromised. In these situations it is essential that customers boil all water that will be consumed or used for food preparation. Water should be boiled for two minutes and allowed to cool before use. This includes water used for: drinking water (including pets), brushing teeth, baby formula, preparing food, washing produce, and preparing coffee, tea, lemonade, etc. Water is safe to use for showering; however, be careful not to ingest the water. Water used for laundry, general washing and outdoor use is safe to use without boiling.

To ensure the quality and safety of the water has been restored following a boil order or boil advisory, Des Moines Water Works must perform analyses on two samples from the area, one taken immediately following the issue and one taken 24 hours later. This means a boil advisory or boil order will be in effect for at least 48 hours. Des Moines Water Works will communicate the end to the order or advisory to give customers an “all clear” signal, at which time customers can be confident the water is safe to drink. While these situations are rare, Des Moines Water Works understands boil advisories and boil orders are an inconvenience to our customers; however, there are no compromises when protecting the health of you and your family.

Stay informed: sign up for the Polk County’s Code Red emergency notification system at https://public.coderedweb.com/CNE/33A099CF3F14. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. During a major emergency, we will also confirm information and provide details at www.dmww.com.

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November 24, 2014

Investment in Aging Water Infrastructure and Degraded Source Water

PumpsIn setting water rates and the proposed budget for 2015, the Board of Water Works Trustees has demonstrated a continued commitment to investing in Des Moines’ aging water infrastructure and providing safe water to customers, despite increasingly poor quality of source waters.

“While Des Moines Water Works has a long history of substantial reinvestment in water infrastructure, the aging of our assets and our increasing concerns about the impacts of climate change requires even greater investment going forward,” said Bill Stowe, Des Moines Water Works CEO and General Manager. “The degradation of our infrastructure is evidenced by the increasing number of main breaks, and affects our mission to provide a quality and reliable service to our customers.”

The Board of Water Works Trustees believe in a funding philosophy of “pay as you go,” where improvements and replacements are funded through rates and not funded by debt, all while maintaining reasonable water rates in relation to the rest of the country.

The proposed Des Moines Water Works’ 2015 calendar year budget includes rate increases for Des Moines, total service, and wholesale water customers. The rate increases include a 7% increase for Des Moines and total service customers and a 5% increase for wholesale customers, namely suburban customers who purchase water from Des Moines Water Works to resell to their residents. The 7% rate increase is only for the water portion of the monthly bill, not city services that Des Moines Water Works collects for city agencies. For a typical four-person household inside the city of Des Moines, the 7% increase equates to an additional $1.65 on a customer’s monthly water bill.

Certain service areas, such as unincorporated Polk County, have greater capital needs to combat an aging system and accommodate growth. Beyond a 7% increase in rates, those customers will have an additional $1.50/thousand gallon fee that will fund significant capital improvements in the service area.

The 7% increase for Des Moines customers is fundamental to supporting operations and a healthy capital reinvestment program, including facilities necessary to adequately treat source waters that continue to degrade.

“Delivering safe and reliable water to our customers is a capital intensive responsibility,” said Stowe. “Even while working efficiently, the costs for treatment and distribution of water continue to rise. To not invest in critical water infrastructure and capital improvement projects would be irresponsible.”

In addition to investment in the aging infrastructure, the 2015 rates reflect the nearly $1 million Des Moines Water Works spent in 2013 to reduce nitrate concentrations found in Des Moines Water Works’ source waters to a level below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s safe drinking water standard.

Within the proposed 2015 budget, 16% of the utility’s capital budget will be spent on improvements to naturally reduce rising nitrate levels in source waters. This includes the use of sand quarries and gravel pits that naturally filter nitrate – a longer term investment and more cost effective solution in comparison to operating and expanding the expensive nitrate removal facility.

New water rates will go into effect April 1, 2015. A complete listing of Des Moines Water Works’ 2015 water rate structure is available at www.dmww.com/upl/documents/library/2015-water-rates.pdf.

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October 10, 2014

Des Moines Water Works’ Role in Fire Protection

As National Fire Prevention Week concludes, we look at Des Moines Water Works’ role in assisting fire crews with fire protection of the community, as seen during a major fire earlier this year in downtown Des Moines.

It was shortly after 1:00 a.m. on March 29, when Des Moines Water Works received a call from Polk County Emergency Management. They alerted Water Works that fire crews would be using multiple hydrants and a large amount of water to fight a structure fire in downtown Des Moines.

Christopher Gannon/The Des Moines Register

It was the 115-year-old downtown Des Moines building that housed an iconic Younkers department store and the popular Younkers Tea Room for decades. The building, which was undergoing a $37 million rental and retail renovation that was to be a cornerstone for redevelopment along Walnut Street, was equipped with a construction standpipe, but the fire alarm and sprinkler system installations were not yet complete.

The rare, three-alarm fire required massive amounts of water to fight the fire and control damages.

At the height of the fire, Des Moines Fire Department was coordinating a total of 18 trucks on the scene, with several trucks each pumping 1,500 gallons of water per minute, for close to five hours.

An estimated total of eight million gallons of water was used from the beginning of the firefighting, around 1:00 a.m. Saturday, well into Sunday.  That is equivalent to the amount of water demanded by an entire community (similarly sized to the city of Ankeny) in one day at the peak of irrigation season in the summer.

To accommodate the hike in demand, Des Moines Water Works had to draw water from the Raccoon River, process, and then pump the water at a higher rate than a typical early morning in March. The increase in demand caused no system failures.

Des Moines Water Works facilities within the city of Des Moines are designed and constructed with extra capacity specifically intended to provide fire protection. In fact, fire protection demand is often what determines the size and location of the facilities that will be installed.

The minimum pipe diameter used for water mains in the City of Des Moines is 8-inch.  This is more than large enough to provide domestic service, but the larger size is necessary to provide fire protection.  The same is true for storage facilities and pumping stations around town. All are sized and located specifically to ensure adequate fire protection.

While many of us drive or walk past fire hydrants without much thought, Des Moines Water Works takes great pride in the installation and maintenance of the 9,600 fire hydrants in Des Moines and surrounding communities, which provide an essential function in adequate fire protection for the community.

Insurance Service Office, Inc. (ISO) regularly conducts evaluations which they refer to as Public Protection Classification surveys. The survey is a measure of a community’s capabilities related to fire protection. In 2010, a survey was conducted in Des Moines. The water supply received a score of 37.19 out of 40 and a Class 1 rating, or the highest possible rating. This shows that the water system in Des Moines is well positioned to provide adequate fire protection to its customers.

Christopher Gannon/The Des Moines Register

The Younkers fire was an extraordinary event that unfolded in real-time via social media. No persons were injured and the efforts by firefighters to control the damages caused by the fire have allowed the remaining portions of the building to continue to be redeveloped, including the beloved Tea Room.

 

Photos by Christopher Gannon/The Des Moines Register.

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October 6, 2014

Your Comments Needed for the Waters of the U.S. Rule

One in three Americans gets their drinking water from rivers and streams that are vulnerable or impaired, including the 500,000 central Iowans who depend on the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers as the source of their drinking water.

Iowans must speak out and demand clean water in our rivers that is essential for drinking, swimming, and fishing. Clean water is critical to viable communities and economic growth. Sixty percent of streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country are not clearly protected from pollution and destruction.

Over 40 years ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act. The focus was to, through regulatory means, remove raw sewage and industrial pollution from rivers and lakes. Thanks to cleanup efforts spurred by the Clean Water Act, the pollution from these sources has decreased immensely or been eliminated.  Unfortunately, agriculture was exempt from most provisions of the Clean Water Act, and today, is the largest contributor to water pollution in Iowa’s rivers and the country. It is time to expand the Clean Water Act regulations to include all sources of pollution – including agriculture.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have proposed stronger protections for the clean water vital to all Americans, but agriculture continues to be exempted. The proposal is the Clean Water Act-Waters of the United States rule. Agriculture exemptions have degraded Iowa’s rivers and lakes and should no longer be allowed. Iowans must engage in protecting water resources by demanding the support of Iowa’s congressional delegates and state legislators to expand regulations in the Clean Water Act to include sources of agricultural pollution.

The current EPA-Corp of Engineers proposed rule is open for public comment until October 20, 2014. Do your part to support the current proposal, but also ask for expansion of the Clean Water Act to include agricultural sources of pollution. Your drinking water, your health, the ability to fish and swim in Iowa rivers and lakes, and the economic viability of our communities is dependent on your actions today. Future generations are depending on you. Submit your comments at: www.epa.gov/uswaters.

For additional information:

Posted by: Linda Kinman 1 Comment
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September 30, 2014

Middle School Students, EPA Region 7 Administrator Talk Water Quality

DSC_0452EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks will be in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday, Oct. 3, to visit with Brody Middle School seventh grade students about EPA’s role in protecting water quality. Brooks’ visit will include a role-play exercise featuring six groups of students representing EPA, scientists, farmers, concerned citizens, Des Moines Water Works, and non-profits. Afterwards, a group of students will participate in a water quality testing exercise at Des Moines Water Works Park.

Brooks will discuss the importance of EPA’s partnerships to protect water quality in Iowa, and the Waters of the U.S. proposal. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a draft proposal in March to strengthen protection for the clean water that is vital to all Americans.

The students are learning about Iowans’ water pollution reduction efforts, Iowa’s nutrient reduction strategy, and best management agricultural practices to improve water quality.

Brody Middle School serves about 780 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students within the Des Moines Public School District.  Brody is an International Baccalaureate candidate school where learning is incorporated with an understanding of how individuals fit into the world and how their actions affect others.  Approximately 120 seventh graders have been learning about water quality at Brody.

The Des Moines metropolitan area’s 500,000 residents receive their drinking water from Des Moines Water Works, which draws water from the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. The quality of these rivers is fundamental to providing safe drinking water for the public health of the Des Moines community.

  • WHO: Karl Brooks, EPA Region 7 Administrator
  • WHAT: Remarks, role-play student exercise and students learning about water chemistry (all events are open to the press).
  • WHEN: Friday, Oct. 3, 2014, 1:00 p.m. to 1:45 p.m., Brooks’ remarks and activity at Brody Middle School; 2:15 p.m. to 2:45 p.m., Water quality testing at Des Moines Water Works Park.
  • WHERE: Brody Middle School, 2501 Park Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa 50321 and Des Moines Water Works Park, 412 Fleur Drive, Des Moines, Iowa 50321. After entering the park, watch for signage to the pond.

Clean water is important for drinking, swimming, farming, fishing, businesses and communities.  Sixty percent of streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country aren’t clearly protected from pollution and destruction. One in three Americans—117 million of us—get our drinking water from streams that are vulnerable.

To help celebrate October as Children’s Health Month, EPA works with parents, teachers, and health providers to promote environmental education and healthy environments for children. EPA recognizes the importance of educators’ in incorporating environmental education in their classrooms and teaching methods.

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August 18, 2014

Water Quality Mystery

It is no mystery as to why water quality in Iowa must be improved. The mystery is why major efforts to improve water quality are not moving forward with the urgency Iowans should demand.

The toxic cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Erie that shut down the water supply for nearly half a million residents in Toledo, Ohio for several days earlier this month has highlighted the importance of watershed protection.

Much like Toledo, cyanobacteria is prevalent in Iowa. Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager of Des Moines Water Works, said “it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when,” Des Moines could face a similar problem.

state beach closed by DNR

Frequently, we hear on local news stations that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has issued a beach advisory, which can be due to bacteria or microcystin (toxin from cyanobacteria) levels. Both cyanobacteria and algae growth are in response to warm weather and nutrients (i.e. nitrogen and phosphorus) from agricultural practices, and can proliferate in the source water to a degree that affects water treatment operations.

On August 7, 2014, “Swimming not Recommended” advisories due to high levels of bacteria were posted by Iowa DNR at the following state beaches:

  • Blue Lake Beach at Lewis & Clark State Park
  • Denison Beach at Black Hawk State Park
  • Prairie Rose Beach at Prairie Rose State Park
  • Lake of Three Fires at Lake of Three Fires State Park
  • Beed’s Lake Beach at Beed’s Lake State Park
  • Union Grove Beach at Union Grove State Park
  • Backbone Beach at Backbone State Park
  • Lake Keomah Beach at Lake Keomah State Park
  • Geode Lake Beach at Geode State Park

The number of microcystin advisories at state beaches has increased each year.

Year      Number of Microcystin Advisories

2014       11 (through week 11 of a 15-week season)

2013       24

2012       14

2011       7

Swimming advisories are issued between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year. The advisories are posted when bacteria or microcystin levels are determined to be a risk for swimming and/or potential ingestion of contaminated water. For up to date information, call the DNR Beach Monitoring Hotline at (319) 353-2613. Information is also posted at http://www.iowadnr.gov/Recreation/BeachMonitoring.

The “do not drink” incident in Toledo is a reminder that the protection of our source waters is critical to the protection of public health. This should be a call to action for citizens to advocate for cleaner source water and to question the current rhetoric on voluntary agriculture conservation practices.

The benefits of hearing about water quality issues and concerns first hand from the public are invaluable to local and state government leaders. The Governor, agency directors, legislators and local city council members need to hear from you about your experiences and perceptions of the quality of water in Iowa’s rivers, streams and lakes. When citizen outcry is sufficient, and actions are transparent and measured, we will be able to take the next step to improving Iowa’s quality of life.

Posted by: Linda Kinman No Comments
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August 6, 2014

Toledo’s “Do Not Drink” Order Should be a Wake-up Call

Toledo glass of algaeLast weekend, the City of Toledo advised its customers against drinking the city’s tap water. The municipal ban left 500,000 Toledo and Michigan residents without drinking water for three days, which was contaminated by a toxin produced by an algae bloom in Lake Erie.

Cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as blue-green algae, are a serious problem in surface water sources in the United States. In drinking water, they are most commonly known for causing taste and odor problems.  In some cases they can also release cyanotoxins, which raise health concerns related to the liver, nervous system and gastrointestinal system.

In Toledo, a cyanobacteria bloom is an annual occurrence and was recently quite visible near Toledo’s water intake system on Lake Erie. Tests last week from the city’s water treatment plant confirmed the detection of microcystin — a cyanotoxin produced by the harmful blue-green algae. City officials were told by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to issue a “do not drink” order for its entire population.

The cause of the annual cyanobacteria bloom in Toledo is primarily phosphorus from farm fertilizer runoff, and the amount of phosphorus determines the bloom’s size. Scientists are also learning that another farm fertilizer, nitrogen, affects the size and composition of the annual bloom.

The “do not drink” incident in Toledo is a reminder that the protection of our source waters is critical to the protection of public health.

Much like Toledo, cyanobacteria is prevalent in Iowa. At Des Moines Water Works, phytoplankton studies are performed on Des Moines’ sources waters – the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. Cyanobacterial and algal counts comprise the phytoplankton studies.  These studies determine the numbers and species of the most common phytoplankton viewed microscopically.

Blue-green algae bloom at Big Creek

 

Both cyanobacteria and algae grow in response to warm weather and nutrients (i.e. nitrogen and phosphorus), and can proliferate in the source water to a degree that affects water treatment operations.

Des Moines Water Works staff treats for unfavorable tastes, odors, and toxins by dispersing powdered activated carbon throughout the water (much like when water is ran through a carbon filter).  Chlorination of the water also helps remove or destroy bad tastes, odors, and cyanotoxins.

When the phytoplankton counts become high, Des Moines Water Works staff can respond by switching from one river to the other, by maximizing use of the infiltration gallery system (a series of underground pipes located throughout Water Works Park next to the Raccoon River), and by using water stored in aquifer storage reservoirs or water produced at the L. D. McMullen and Saylorville Water Treatment Plants.

Currently there is not a federal standard for blue-green algae or their toxins in drinking water; however, a growing number of states are introducing their own guidelines and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has named cyanotoxins as a candidate for federal regulation.

Strategic water treatment, testing, and federal regulation of cyanotoxins are worthy, but a remedy at the source of the contaminant is more urgent. The only viable option to curtail the presence of algae that can potentially cause toxins to infiltrate our drinking water is changing upstream land practices.

Creating buffers, like plants and trees that stand between farms and the water, may help catch fertilizer chemicals before they get into water ways, spurring algae growth. Farmers could also, theoretically, use less fertilizer, though there are no regulations in place as of now.

Farm runoff is not very regulated, so the drinking water contamination incidence in Toledo could happen again, and here in Iowa.

This should be a call to action for citizens to advocate for cleaner source water and to question if voluntary water protection measures work.

 

Top photo credit: A glass of algae filled Lake Erie water, near the Toledo water intake crib, on Sunday via The Toledo Blade.

 

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