Archive for October, 2010October 25, 2010
Written by guest author, Marian Gelb, Executive Director, Iowa Environmental Council
Iowa voters will have a historic opportunity on November 2, 2010, to vote for Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy constitutional amendment. Protecting Iowa’s water and soil is at the heart of this amendment. Specifically, the amendment will create the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund which will provide a permanent, reliable and accountable revenue source to improve water quality and natural areas in Iowa. Funding will include fish and wildlife habitat and parks, trails, in addition to aiding in conservation of agricultural soils and restoring wetlands to protect against future flooding.
Recent data from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources shows that 53% of Iowa’s water sources rate “poor,” and Iowa currently loses an average of five tons of soil per acre each year due to erosion. Over 500 of Iowa’s waters have been deemed “impaired.” Funding to protect our natural resources remains at near historic lows. As of today, Iowa ranks 47th out of 50 states in funding for conservation, despite the fact that more than 27,000 Iowa jobs are supported by outdoor recreation. Nobody will dispute the fact that Iowa’s distinct character and our quality of life are directly tied to our state’s natural resources. Iowa’s parks and lakes receive more than 25 million visits each year, and our fertile soil provides the backbone to our economy.
The stakes for Iowa’s natural resources on November 2 are incredibly high. We must act now. By passing this amendment in November, we can prevent the permanent loss of soil, water and wildlife and retain Iowa’s quality of life and natural beauty so our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren can enjoy the state the same way we do. The good news is, by cleaning up our water supply and conserving Iowa’s soils, we have the opportunity to actually leave the state to future generations better than we found it.
A vote for Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy Amendment is a vote for the creation of the Trust Fund – not a vote for a tax increase. Revenue for the Trust Fund will come from allocating 3/8ths of one cent from sales tax revenue the next time the Iowa legislature raises the state sales tax. This funding recommendation was based on over three years of research and study conducted by a legislative advisory committee. The advisory committee concluded that those funds, in addition to annual state budget allocations, would meet current needs. Once created, the Trust Fund will be managed responsibly, including open, public competition for funding, mandatory audits and citizen committee oversight.
The time is now to start investing in Iowa’s natural resources. We have a proud history of farming, biking along the Heritage Trail, hiking the Loess Hills, fishing on North Bear, and teaching our sons and daughters to appreciate wildlife. The quality and condition of our natural resources is the responsibility of all Iowans. Please go to the polls on November 2 and vote YES on Question #1.
For more information on how to get involved: Mark Langgin, campaign manager for Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy, firstname.lastname@example.org; 515-707-0266. Visit www.IowasWaterAndLandLegacy.org for more information.
The Board of Water Works Trustees supports the Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund
Linus, Charlie Brown, Sally, Snoopy and Lucy make an appearance under the Botanical Center’s Dome for the sixth installment of Des Moines Botanical & Environmental Center’s Story Time in the Gardens – seasonally changing gardens inspired by popular children’s books. The gardens inspired by “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” are now on display until November 22. The design showcases a pumpkin patch and many fall blooming mums decorating the front of Charlie’s house. The fall garden was designed by Botanical Center Lead Horticulturist, Todd Monson and detailed and artistic painting done by Botanical Center Events Coordinator, Pam Kline.
Along with the gardens, the Botanical Center will be displaying many scarecrows and pumpkins designed by metro area schools. Invitations to participate were sent to schools in August asking for scarecrows and pumpkins to be entered in a contest. Winners will be announced at the end of October, with the winning school receiving gift cards to the Learning Post.
Throughout 2010, visitors to the Des Moines Botanical & Environmental Center will be welcomed with a new horticultural and educational experience as the gardens transform throughout the year, all inspired by popular children’s stories, including Dr. Seuss, Charlie Brown and Eric Carle books.
“Story Time in the Gardens” includes seven plant bed changes in the Dome – many bringing the stories alive with life-size props – educational activities, theme-related gift shop items, Riverwalk Café menu choices and special events, all inspired by children’s books. The theme continues into the Show House, with four unique, seasonal designs, and outside to the Herb Garden which is open May through September. Please visit the Des Moines Botanical & Environmental Center throughout the year to see each new garden.
The Des Moines Botanical & Environmental Center is a family-friendly environment with plenty of free parking and wheel chair accessible. Admission is $5.00 adults, $4.00 for seniors, $3.00 for students, members and children under three are free. The Des Moines Botanical & Environmental Center is open daily, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m
In response to the growing water demand in the northern portion of the Des Moines metropolitan area, Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) is in the final phase of constructing a new water treatment plant on NW 26th Street, just south of NW 66th Avenue. The plant is nearing completion and should be in service this fall.
The Saylorville water treatment plant will use technology different than the two current water treatment plants. The treatment process will include ultra filtration (UF) membranes followed by split treatment through reverse osmosis (RO) membranes. The first treatment step will be oxidation to precipitate the dissolved iron and manganese in the shallow groundwater. The water will then go through the UF membranes which will filter out all of the particulate (undissolved) material in the water.
After filtration, part of the water will go through the RO membranes and some of the water will bypass the RO membranes. The RO membranes have smaller pores than the UF membranes and are able to filter out dissolved material in the water. The primary removal targets for the RO membranes are hardness (calcium and magnesium ions) and nitrate.
The ratio of water that is sent through versus around the RO membranes will be set to match the hardness of the water treated at the two existing water treatment plants and to ensure the nitrate concentration in the finished water is below the limit for drinking water. DMWW is excited to begin utilizing membranes for water treatment to compare with the operation and maintenance of a membrane plant with the two current lime softening plants.
The treatment capacity will be 10 million gallons per day (MGD) and the plant can be expanded in steps to 20 MGD by adding additional UF and RO membrane units.
Check back with us here on the blog for more updates.
You may wonder why a water utility would need more online presence than a website. Des Moines Water Works’ (DMWW) social media endeavor is in alignment with our 2010-2014 Strategic Plan. We realize the way the world communicates has changed, and we want to be where our customers are. If that means participating in blogging, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, we’re ready to be there.
Our management team is very much on board with this new initiative, and on this blog you’ll be hearing from many employees from every corner of our organization. From the treatment plants to the Botanical Center, to Water Works Park, we’re bringing the best insights from our people directly to you. We hope you enjoy this blog, and comment frequently. We’re listening.
What do we hope to accomplish?
- Increase public awareness of the value of water
- Promote stewardship of our natural resources
- Post current DMWW news
- Promote events at the Botanical Center and in the parks
- Educate water consumers
- Inform the public of our involvement and initiatives with various associations
- Share pertinent information about the Utility (Did you know DMWW was recognized by Forbes in 2008 for having the highest quality drinking water in the USA?)
- Attract qualified applicants, and
- Interact with the community, residential and business customers, industry and government partners
We welcome your feedback. Are there topics of particular interest to you? Let us know how we can improve service to you, our customers.
The Des Moines Botanical Center is a destination oasis in the middle of Des Moines. Besides the awesome view of the Des Moines River, the new Principal Riverwalk and a balmy getaway from the elements, the Botanical Center is able to host events of all kinds, and also has a great gift shop.
There is so much more to do at the Botanical Center than view the gardens. If you’re a shopper, shop here. If you like to enjoy a nice lunch with a beautiful view, dine here. If you just got engaged and are planning your wedding and reception, book it here. If you are looking for a place to hold an off-site meeting, meet here. If you need food and beverage for a business or social event, cater through here. If you are on your 20-year class reunion committee, plan your gathering here. If you’re celebrating your son or daughter’s 5th birthday, celebrate here.
The Botanical Center’s Garden Gate Gift Shop, located in the lobby, carries some of the most unique gifts and local-made treasures you can find. Our Riverwalk Café serves lunch daily, with the exception of Sundays, and offers a fantastic menu. Great Midwestern Catering operates the Riverwalk Café and can cater your next business or social function. The Botanical Center’s various rental facilities offer affordable options for your next business or social event. A scenic location on the east bank of the Des Moines River, easy access to I-235, ample free parking and handicapped accessibility combine to make the Des Moines Botanical Center one of the most popular places to hold an event in the Metro area!
If you’ve ever been without water temporarily or have had to conserve, it doesn’t take you long to truly value the convenience of turning on the faucet and immediately having water at your disposal, whether it be for drinking, bathing, cooking, or cleaning.
According to livescience.com, the average amount of water used daily by an Ethiopian is 3 gallons as compared to 30 gallons per day for a Briton. Americans, as you probably suspected, use the most water per day, averaging 150 gallons per person per day. How would we “survive” if our water usage was drastically restricted? Could you give up showering every day to do laundry on the “off” days? A five-minute shower uses about 20 gallons, less if you have a newer low-flow shower head. One load of laundry requires 10-20 gallons. (Front loading washing machines use less than top loading machines.)
Another thing to think about, but is impossible to monitor, is how much water does the average person waste per day? I think it would be fair to assume that Ethiopians waste much less water than Americans. While brushing your teeth or washing your car in your driveway, do you let the water run the entire time or turn it off and on as needed?
Those are two examples of using water wisely which are taught to elementary students through the Urban Environmental Partnership (UEP). Formed in 2000, Des Moines Water Works partners with Metro Waste Authority, City of Des Moines Storm Water Utility, and Wastewater Reclamation Authority to educate students about preserving our natural resources.
Are you a wise water consumer? What ways are you conserving water?
DMWW Board of Trustees has not made a specific decision about the size of any water rate increase for 2011. They will do so at their October 19, 3:30pm Board meeting. The Trustees have only concluded thus far that water rates and charges need to keep pace with the utility’s Cost of Services. Rates will be set before board members vote on the utility’s budget in November. If approved at the October 19 Board Meeting, water rates will take effect April 1, 2011.
Instead of taking on debt to invest in improvements, a water rate increase is being considered to help bring revenues in line with costs. We have a lot of money invested in water pipes, pumps and treatment plants, and we need to keep up with that investment in maintaining those facilities. DMWW’s revenue has not kept pace with costs since 2003. DMWW pays all of its operating expenses but is not collecting sufficient revenue to pay for the needed infrastructure improvements. The Board of Trustees recognizes DMWW cannot continue this trend without saddling future rate payers and generations with a large tab because of the failure now to set rates and charges to cover the true cost of the utility’s operations.
In spite of these financial and source water challenges, DMWW continues to produce high quality water for our customers. One example of our exemplary water quality is the recognition received in April 2008 by Forbes.com who ranked Des Moines as being the best city in America for clean drinking water.
Rates for the typical Des Moines customer could go up between 10 percent and 13 percent next year to help bring revenues in line with costs. That would result in water bills that are $1.50 to $2.00 more per month for a two-person household. Monthly increases would range between $2.00 and $3.00 for the average four-person household. Currently, the water portion of the bill for an average two-person household is about $15.00 a month and roughly $25.00 for a four-person home.
The proposed rate increase is in response to increases in costs to treat the water and maintain our distribution system. DMWW is committed to spending our limited resources wisely and continually evaluates our programs to be as efficient as possible.
Chemical prices are expected to increase approximately 5 percent in 2011. While significant, the increase is less than those seen over the past few years. Complex pollution issues in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers, such as routinely elevated levels of fecal bacteria, often complicate the treatment process. Various stretches of the two rivers are on Iowa’s impaired waters list because of problems with bacteria, algae and nitrates, among numerous biological impairments. Water Works staff continues to emphasize the need for aggressive improvements in the sprawling watersheds that feed into the rivers.
Also, wetter-than-average summers over the past three to four years have led to decreased demand and relatively flat water sales.
The last rate increase was April 1, 2009. The availability charge, the fixed amount of the water bill intended to cover Water Works fixed costs per customer whether or not any water is used, was increased by $2.00 per month in April 2010.
It’s Cool to Be Green is the theme of this school year’s free environmental education programs offered to Des Moines area schools by the Urban Environmental Partnership. Mary Gillaspey (Metro Waste Authority) and I are busy traveling to area classrooms to teach about taking care of the world around us. In all of our 16 different programs, we try to get across the message of watershed protection in a fun way.
Young kids love Dewey the waterdrop puppet as he takes them on a journey of water traveling through Des Moines. When the Raccoon River Players (Mary and I) visit a classroom to perform three humorous skits, kids get to learn about how water becomes polluted (and how to prevent it) and about breaking the nasty litterbug habit. Students get the chance to hone their recycling skills in our Recycle Me presentation. Older students get to learn about how watersheds and landfills work through the use of table-sized plastic models.
The water cycle comes alive with a puzzle activity of where water goes at it travels through Des Moines. Students learn about the steps it takes to get drinking water and wastewater clean through large picture cards or a Powerpoint presentation and chemical samples, or they can come on a tour of Des Moines Water Works and walk through the steps of water treatment. A highlight of the tour is a visit to the laboratory and the opportunity to see some of the testing our microbiologist and chemists do every day to make sure the water is clean and safe to drink. Teachers can schedule our programs and tours by emailing me at email@example.com .
The Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) has been providing potable water to Des Moines citizens since 1871. In 1919, the private water company became a publicly owned utility, governed by a Board of Trustees.
Appointed by the Mayor, and subject to approval by the City Council, the five-member board is responsible for overseeing the Utility by establishing policies, authorizing contracts, approving annual operating and capital budgets, and performing duties required by law.
Meetings of the Board of Trustees are conducted monthly and are open to the public, unless authorized to be closed in accordance with state law. A majority vote by the board is necessary to pass any motion or take any action. Additionally, meetings of the board planning and finance and audit committees are conducted monthly. Each meeting includes a public comment period. Agendas, supporting documentation, minutes and audio recordings of the meetings are posted on DMWW’s website. Videos of the monthly Board meetings can be viewed on Channel 7 on Thursday evenings at 8:30 p.m.
Current Board members are Robert G. Riley, Jr., Chairperson; David A. Carlson, Vice Chairperson; Mary C. Gottschalk; James M. Grant; and Susan R. Huppert. Their bios are posted on DMWW’s web site.
If you have any questions for our board of trustees, please leave them in the comments section.
Des Moines Water Works places much emphasis on delivering not only quality water, but also quality customer service. Occasionally, I hear a customer exclaim that “Des Moines Water Works doesn’t have to care what customers think because you’re a monopoly—I don’t have a choice where to get my water.” While it is true customers in the metro area cannot select another public water supplier, I disagree that Des Moines Water Works doesn’t care what customers think. Quite the contrary.
Every couple years, DMWW formally surveys our customers. In May, we sent surveys to 3,000 randomly selected residential customers. This is not a brief questionnaire, and we were thrilled to receive 758 surveys back, for a response rate of 25.3%. In overall satisfaction, the utility received a rating of 4.49 out of 5, with 5 being Very Satisfied. When customers were asked to rank service providers, DMWW tied with Des Moines Fire. To be ranked with the heroes in the Fire Community who save our houses and families upon disaster says a lot about the service DMWW delivers to our customers, and our customers’ satisfaction and appreciation for that service. In comparison to satisfaction scores in our last survey in 2006, Water Quality and In home Customer Service were the areas most improved. Interestingly, those were the two areas identified for improvement four years ago. Think we don’t listen? Think again.
Our Customer Service Contact Center slid a little in terms of satisfaction, as did the water availability and uninterrupted water service categories. Our commitment to you, our customer, is to take a look at those areas and identify how we can improve them.
As in prior years, our customers told us that water quality and uninterrupted water service are the two most important services we provide. Somewhat surprisingly this year, however, was that customers ranked Water Works Parks #3 in importance. Des Moines Water Works is unique in that we offer more than 1,500 acres of public park land. You have spoken loud and clear that Water Works Parks are important to you, and as we continue to develop our parks’ identities, we will consider your needs related to this unique aspect of our operations.
If you’re interested in reading the full Voice of the Customer Survey, check it out here.
What do you think of our customer service? What do we do well, and what should we focus on improving in the future? It’s your voice. Make it heard. We’re listening.