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June 29, 2018

No water quality success worth reporting or celebrating

The Iowa Farm Bureau is perturbed that the news media didn’t do more to cover the fifth year anniversary of Iowa’s voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the conservation progress being made by Iowa farmers.

The Iowa Farm Bureau pouting because they are not receiving enough praise and admiration from the media is funny considering the influence they wield with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, and key members of the Trump administration.

Since her ascension to the office of Governor, Des Moines Water Works has requested a meeting with Governor Reynolds on numerous occasions.  Each time we have been told she is working hard to make Iowa better, but has no time in her schedule to sit down with a utility that supplies drinking water to one-sixth of the state’s population.  Even after parts of nine Southwest Iowa counties were without drinking water recently, the Governor’s office still brushed off a request to sit down and discuss important issues related to access to safe drinking water.

While Governor Reynolds continues to refuse to meet with Des Moines Water Works, she has appeared or partnered in numerous events with the Iowa Farm Bureau and other commodity groups in her first 13 months in office.  From water quality events in Northwest Iowa to speaking at the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting, Reynolds doesn’t miss an opportunity to be seen with the organization. In fact, Reynolds even joined Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt when he visited the Iowa Farm Bureau in August of 2017.

One would think the Iowa Farm Bureau could deal with being ignored in a news cycle so long as they have the ear of decision makers in Des Moines and Washington D.C.

As for the substantive part of the Iowa Farm Bureau’s latest article about farming and conservation, we commend them for finally acknowledging that farmers have responsibility for water quality.  As well as Rep. Steve King’s recent comments on the House floor about Iowa farmers’ contribution to the Gulf of Mexico’s ‘Dead Zone,’ in his Amendment to the House Farm Bill.  This is truly a breakthrough.  Finally, Iowa Farm Bureau acknowledges agricultural activities do impact water quality (even if, erroneously, the author believes Iowa’s water quality has improved since the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was implemented).  However, if it’s the truth you are seeking, it should be easily verifiable by data and the problem is that the facts and science are not on the Iowa Farm Bureau’s side.

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy has failed.  Nitrate concentration in both the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers has been unchanged since the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was introduced in 2013.  However, nitrate loads in both rivers has actually increased during that same time frame.  And remember, the stated goal of the program was to reduce Iowa’s contribution of nutrients in our rivers, streams, and lakes by 45 percent, which is nowhere in sight.

In fact, a recent study from the University of Iowa shows the state’s contribution to the nitrogen pollution in the Gulf of Mexico has grown by almost 50 percent, despite the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.  The study also shows that Iowa is responsible for 55 percent of the nitrogen load is the Missouri River.  Chris Jones, a research engineer at the University of Iowa’s IIHR–Hydroscience & Engineering, states, “The way that pencils out is that the amount of water coming from Iowa has seven times more nitrate than the rest of the Missouri River watershed.”

The Iowa Farm Bureau is seeking praise for farmers because some of them have chosen to enact conservation practices on their land.  While it is indeed good and right to commend farmers who take the necessary steps to protect water sources and improve soil quality, a voluntary approach is never going to achieve the desired results.  It is time for a bold approach to address water quality in our state.

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. When nitrate concentrations in Des Moines Water Works’ source waters (Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers) are above 10 mg/L, the utility must deploy costly nitrate removal solutions in order to meet the Safe Drinking Water Standard for its finished drinking water.

With no measurable improvement in our sources waters, Des Moines Water Works has no choice but to continuing investment to de-nitrify because the condition of the Raccoon River is deteriorating.  Our continued investment in the Saylorville Water Treatment Plant on the Des Moines River is necessary because it is more financially prudent to avoid the more heavily polluted Raccoon River.

The current game being played by the Iowa Farm Bureau and our elected leaders is a dangerous one.  It makes ribbon cuttings and press releases touting unrealized success a priority, while the conditions of our source waters are simply ignored.  The doors at Des Moines Water Works will continue to remain open to anyone who wants to discuss how we can all work together to improve water quality in the state.  Let’s not confuse “collaboration” or “cooperation” with back-slapping cheers for the status quo.  We realize that unless our current leaders choose to leave the echo chamber they are currently residing in, not much is going to change.  And that is unfortunate and dangerous. Iowa’s surface waters are a public health disaster in waiting.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 2 Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality June 18, 2018

Updated Security for Credit Card Payments on DMWW Website

As of June 1, 2018, industry online security standards have changed because previous versions have been shown to be vulnerable to attack.  Companies that accept payments by credit card, including Des Moines Water Works, are no longer supporting the security protocol known as TLS 1.0, and are instead supporting versions TLS 1.1 and TLS 1.2.  In order to initiate online transactions from older browsers, it may be necessary to update your PC to include the latest version of your browser.    The minimum accepted versions after June 1, 2018 are:

  • Internet Explorer: 11 (Current 11)
  • Google Chrome: 44 (Current 60)
  • Firefox: 38.1 (Current 55)
  • Edge: 12 (Current 15)
  • Opera: 30 (Current 47)
  • Safari: 9 (Current 11)
  • Safari Mobil: 8 (Current 11)
  • Android OS Browser 5.1 (Current 8)

We strongly recommend users upgrade their internet browser and anti-virus software to the latest version available to maintain the highest level of security.  Customers will be unable to initiate payments online at www.dmww.com until their browser has been updated to the minimum version listed above.

This change is mandated by the PCI (Payment Card Industry) Security Council and affects all merchants and service providers that transmit credit card data. Please update your operating system and browsers to ensure compliance with these new safety protocols.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 2 Comments
Labels: , , Posted in Customer Service, Customers February 13, 2018

Exploring Variations in Water Quality Parameters in the Raccoon River

Rivers are incredibly dynamic ecosystems. To paraphrase the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, no one ever steps into the same river twice, because it’s not the same river nor the same person. A team of scientists from Drake University has been investigating changes in the Raccoon River at various locations over an 18-month period.

“The goal of our work is to understand the patterns of the Raccoon River across space and time,” said Peter Levi, a faculty member in Drake University’s Department of Environmental Science and Sustainability.

Every two or three weeks since June 2016, Levi and several students from Drake visit nine sites in the South, Middle, North, and mainstem Raccoon River. The sampling sites are bridges and boat ramps – from Minburn and Redfield to downtown Des Moines

Levi and his team have been focused on several key parameters that are important metrics of water quality: suspended sediment, nutrient concentrations in the water, and the rates of sediment denitrification (a natural microbial process that permanently removes nitrate from river water). Together, measuring these parameters at frequent intervals over an 18-month time period will allow the scientists to investigate the influence of seasonal changes and land-use on water quality in the lower Raccoon River watershed. The field component of the research will continue through December, but Levi has already seen interesting results.

“The different branches of the river fluctuate so much between each other on the same date and within the same branch across dates. It will be exciting to wrap up the fieldwork and start to analyze the patterns in relation to climate and landscape data.”

The research by Drake’s Stream Ecosystem Ecology Lab (SEEL) has been a community effort. Teams of citizen scientists were deployed to sample the Raccoon River at more points in July 2017. Three teams of volunteers covered over 80 river miles in just three days. The intensive sampling will provide the researchers an opportunity to understand how each branch varies at a much finer scale.

In August 2017, Des Moines Water Works agreed to provide Drake University analytical assistance for the monitoring project of the Raccoon River.  This laboratory support is provided at a reduced rate, saving Drake approximately $30,000.

“We appreciate Peter Levi’s work and Drake’s support of monitoring nutrient trends and natural denitrification rates in the Raccoon River,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager. “This project could be the start of a great partnership examining nutrients in our source waters.”

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , Posted in Source Water, Uncategorized, Water Quality February 1, 2018

Water Main Replacement Program

Water main replacement planning is a necessary, preventative approach that saves money on repairs, reduces the loss of water that occurs as a result of the main breaks, and minimizes disruption to customers.  Des Moines Water Works budgets for water main replacement to maintain and upgrade the distribution system by replacing water mains that have a history of breaks, to improve the fire flow, relocating to accommodate city, county, or state construction projects, and upgrading water mains to meet the needs of customers.

Several factors impact which water mains are replaced and the approach to planning for 2018 was different than in years past.  Des Moines Water Works’ Long Range Plan through 2040 included the analysis of water main break data occurring within the system.  Through this analysis, a relative risk score was created based on the assessment of consequence of  failure, likelihood of failure, and a capacity factor.  Pipe segments consisting of risk scores in the highest range are highly recommended for replacement.  Staff from various departments provided input while creating the priority list of streets for water main replacement.  Des Moines Water Works’ 5-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) includes approximately $7 million of water main replacement each year.  The City of Des Moines also has a 5-year CIP for city streets and sewers.  Des Moines Water Works and the City of Des Moines work collaboratively to choose the streets to be the most cost effective and cause the least disruption to customers.

After each project is designed, Des Moines Water Works will receive bids from contractors and the construction contract will be awarded to the contractor that will be performing the work.  If the bids received allow Des Moines Water Works to complete all the streets within budget, construction will take place in 2018.  Construction not completed in 2018 will take place in future years.  Des Moines Water Works is currently contacting customers directly in the neighborhoods throughout Des Moines and Polk County that have been scheduled for water main replacement in 2018.  Additional customer letters and public meetings will be forthcoming.  Des Moines Water Works appreciates the cooperation and understanding from customers during construction and will work with contractors to minimize the inconvenience to customers impacted by the following projects:

Polk County Water Main Replacement – CONTRACT 1

  • NE 14th Street from I-80/35 Westbound Off Ramp to NE 43rd Avenue

Des Moines Water Main Replacement – CONTRACT 1

  • Thomas Beck Road from Crown Colony Court to 1401 Thomas Beck Road
  • Fleur Drive from George Flagg Parkway to SW 22nd Street
  • Maple Street from E 2nd Street to E 4th Street
  • E 4th Street from Maple Street to Des Moines Street
  • Alternate Street – Watrous Avenue from SW 14th Street to Glover Avenue

Des Moines Water Main Replacement – CONTRACT 2

  • SW 9th Street from Johnson Street to Amos Avenue
  • SW 10th Place from Southdale Drive to County Line Road
  • SW 11th Street from Southdale Drive to County Line Road
  • SW 15th Street from Army Post Road to Johnson Street
  • Alternate Streets – SE 8th Street from E Miller Avenue to E Rose Avenue and Wall Avenue from SW 13th Place to SW 12th Street

Des Moines Water Main Replacement – CONTRACT 3

  • Kenyon Avenue from SW 16th Street to SW 9th Street
  • SE 14th Street from E Diehl Avenue to E Thornton Avenue
  • SE 14th Street from E Thornton Avenue to E Watrous Avenue
  • Alternate Street – Pioneer Road from SE 14th Street to 1603 Pioneer Road
Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in Customer Service, Customers, Infrastructure January 30, 2018

What Does Good Water Quality Legislation Actually Look Like?

Governor Kim Reynolds requested water quality legislation be the first bill she signs as governor.  After an interim of arm-twisting and cajoling by interest groups and less than 40 minutes of floor debate, the Iowa legislature acquiesced when the Iowa House passed Senate File 512.

Unfortunately, the legislation passed diverts existing funds from other programs to fund a failed voluntary water quality approach, with no monitoring, goals, accountability of funds, or targeting of priority waters.  Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy has failed to make a noticeable impact, and plowing more money into it isn’t going to suddenly make it effective.

As a surface water utility, Des Moines Water Works deals with the quality of water in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers on a daily basis, on behalf of 500,000 central Iowans or one-sixth of Iowa’s population.  Des Moines Water Works advocates for responsible water quality legislation that supports a targeted watershed approach, and includes accountability and measures of progress.

So, what does good water quality legislation actually look like?

Targeted Approach.

Accountable and Measurable. 

 

Adequate Funding. 

 

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Public Policy, Source Water, Uncategorized, Water Quality January 18, 2018

Community Partnerships

Des Moines Water Works is committed to being a vital contributor to the betterment of our community.  Each year, we consider contributions and sponsorships with external organizations that advance the utility’s mission, vision and strategic initiatives.  In 2017, Des Moines Water Works provided over $13,000 to local organizations with curriculum or events designed to build awareness and appreciation for the value of water as a vital resource or build awareness for source water quality and quantity.  A few of these organizations include: Community Youth Concepts, Polk County Conservation, Water Rocks! and Whiterock Conservancy.

More information about Des Moines Water Works’ sponsorship program and an online sponsorship application is available at www.dmww.com/about-us/sponsorships. All requests for in-kind and/or financial support must be made by February 28 of each year using the online form.

Des Moines Water Works thanks its community partners working to provide education, appreciation for and accessibility of safe and affordable drinking water.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , Posted in About Us, Customers January 16, 2018

Des Moines Water Works Becomes First U.S. Water Treatment Facility Certified for ISO 50001 and Superior Energy Performance Program

Des Moines Water Works recently became the first U.S. water treatment utility to certify a plant to the ISO 50001 standard and Superior Energy Performance® (SEP) program.  The SEP program has long helped industrial and commercial organizations establish energy management systems that meet the widely respected ISO 50001 standard and achieve verified energy and cost savings.  As the first certified facility in the water sector, Des Moines Water Works’ Fleur Drive Water Treatment Plant has paved the way for similar facilities nationwide to increase efficiency, cut costs, and demonstrate responsible management of resources.

Aerial photo of Des Moines Water Works’ Fleur Drive Treatment Plant.

Water treatment facilities across America increasingly face aging infrastructures and rising costs.  According to the Electric Power Research Institute, U.S. water and wastewater treatment and distribution systems purchase nearly 70 billion kWh annually (about 1.8 percent of U.S. electricity consumption).  Low-cost operational changes enabled by an energy management system can sustainably reduce operating costs to enable reinvestment in infrastructure or control rates.

Des Moines Water Works has taken a pro-active step in good stewardship of energy and ratepayer dollars by implementing a comprehensive energy conservation and management program.  Energy costs are a significant portion of the utility’s operational budget, so focusing on developing and implementing an energy management system is a crucial step in this stewardship.

Des Moines Water Works worked closely with U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to implement ISO 50001 and SEP.  The utility has pursued energy-saving strategies for decades, but in 2014, the utility raised the bar by joining the SEP pilot for the water/wastewater sector.  In 2016, Des Moines Water Works joined DOE’s Better Plants program and set a goal to increase energy efficiency 25% utility-wide by 2026.  In the following year (2017), the utility joined the Better Plants Challenge, which involves a commitment to share their solutions.

ISO 50001 and SEP helped the utility establish a formal structure to embed energy management processes and reporting into normal business procedures, ensuring the retention and growth of energy savings over time.  By implementing a rigorous energy management system certified to ISO 50001 and Superior Energy Performance, Des Moines Water Works’ Fleur Drive Water Treatment Plant increased its energy performance 2.7% in a single year and is now well-equipped to continuously build on those savings in the years ahead.

ISO 50001 has empowered employees at Des Moines Water Works to incorporate energy-saving actions in day-to-day operations, for example:  taking into consideration how and where energy is used, the cost of energy, and its impact on water rates.

“This new culture of managing energy performance will help the Des Moines Water Works expand its energy and cost savings to benefit the environment and our water customers,” said Bill Stowe, Des Moines Water Works CEO and General Manager.  “The certification is a clear indication to Des Moines Water Works customers and employees that we will lead in providing about good stewardship of natural resources, improving energy performance, and reducing carbon emissions.”

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 2 Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in About Us, Green Initiatives, Infrastructure January 8, 2018

Des Moines Water Works’ 2018 Legislative Priorities

Des Moines Water Works believes meaningful water quality legislation that protects the health of Iowans should be Iowa Legislature’s number one priority; not “pass what we have, and move on.”  Passing legislation and then crossing our fingers and hoping it works is no way to address our water quality issues in our state.  It is also fiscally irresponsible at a time when the state budget has serious constraints and adds to the public health crisis for all Iowans, rural and urban.   Des Moines Water Works will advocate for the following priorities in 2018:

  1. Make the Raccoon River Watershed a Top Priority
    • The watershed provides drinking water to 500,000 Iowans  (one-sixth of the state’s population).
    • Address urgent water quality problems: escalating nitrate concentrations – data show levels have been climbing for decades.
    • Stop pollution that causes serious health threats: blue green algae (cyanotoxins).
    • Fully fund and support subwatershed WMAs (Watershed Management Authorities) that are already formed – North Raccoon, Beaver Creek, Walnut Creek WMAs.
  2. Create Adequate, Sustained Funding Mechanism to Clean Up Iowa Water
    • Adequate and sustained funding mechanism for a targeted, holistic approach to water quality, that includes accountability and measures of progress.
    • Stop pollution where it starts and make the watershed safe for all residents.
    • Funding must not pit conservation/water quality against other vital state services.
    • Require water quality monitoring at the watershed level to ensure effective use of public funds with public access to the data
  3. Give Explicit and Specified Authority and Responsibility to Drainage Districts
    • Require consideration of environmental impacts before new tiling.
    • Give authority to require, monitor and enforce mitigation at edge-of-field.
    • Require water quality monitoring at the district level.
  4. Local Control of Drinking Water
    • Local solutions must be created collaboratively at the local level.
    • A one-size fits all approach for public health issues is bad politics. Home Rule is the best policy for drinking water.
    • Ensure economic growth, public health and supply, by leaving drinking water governance to local water experts.
Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in About Us, Public Policy, Water Quality January 4, 2018

2018 Budget and Water Rates

The Board of Water Works Trustees approved a seven percent rate increase for most customers at their regular monthly meeting in October meeting.  The 2018 rate increase equates to an additional $2.18 per month for water charges for the average four-person household (using 7,500 gallons) in Des Moines.  In addition, a five percent increase for the Wholesale With Storage rate was approved.  The rate increases will result in approximately $2.6 million of increased water revenue for 2018.  New water rates will go into effect April 1, 2018.  A complete listing of Des Moines Water Works’ 2018 water rate structure is available at  www.dmww.com/about-us/announcements.

The Board of Trustees subsequently approved the 2018 calendar year budget at their November meeting, which includes revenue from 2018 rate increases for all service areas.  The 2018 budget includes $63.9 million of operating revenue.  The 2018 operating expenses are budgeted at $43.4 million, an increase of $1.7 million from 2017, primarily due to increases in labor and benefits and treatment plant maintenance expenses.  Capital infrastructure costs are budgeted at $33.2 million. In addition to operating and capital expenditures, $4.3 million will be spent on debt repayment.

As the Board moves toward greater investment in the water utility’s infrastructure, rate increases and annual budgets will be more consistent with the challenges of producing and delivering safe drinking water to its 500,000 central Iowa customers.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 2 Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in Board of Trustees, Rates December 29, 2017

On Call 24/7 to Respond to Main Breaks

As cold weather arrives, water main breaks can become more common.  The months of December, January and February bring the highest number of water main breaks.  Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) crews repair an average of 300 water main breaks each year.  Although DMWW has a proactive and aggressive main replacement program, underground water mains can break for a number of reasons including corrosion, frost heave, water temperature, and pressure fluctuations.

When a water main breaks, generally water comes to the surface and flows across the ground to a storm sewer or waterway.  Large water main breaks can reduce water pressure in the area and the flowing water can cause damage.  If you witness a main break or see water flowing in the street, please call Des Moines Water Works Dispatch at 283-8772.  Des Moines Water Works is committed to providing our customers with safe and abundant drinking water.  To honor that commitment, DMWW crews are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to respond to main breaks, ensuring that your service is restored as quickly as possible.

Once a water main break has been confirmed, the exact location of the break is determined using acoustic leak detection equipment.  This equipment listens to the sound the water makes as it exits the pipe and can determine the location of the leak based on the intensity of the sound.  When the location of the leak has been determined, water service in the area must be shut down so the break can be repaired.  Des Moines Water Works uses Automated Notification System to to communicate water outages to affected customers.  For more information and to make sure DMWW has your correct contact information, visit: http://www.dsmh2o.com/automated-notification-system-2/ 

The safety of our employees and the public during a main break repair is a top priority.  Special attention is given to trench safety which protects our employees and to traffic control which protects our employees as well as the traveling public.  Before the water service is restored, the repaired water main is flushed and sampled to restore the best possible water quality.  An average main break takes 4-6 hours to repair.  You can find current water outages at www.dmww.com.

When the water comes back on, there will likely be air in your water service piping.  It is a good idea to run the first water after an outage through a faucet that does not have an aerator screen, such as a bathtub. Open faucets slowly to allow the air to escape.  Air will make a spurting or hissing sound as it escapes through the faucet.  Once the water is flowing, allow the faucet to run for a minute or two. The first water may be cloudy due to air in the water or particles that dislodge as the pipes fill with water. This should clear fairly quickly.  If water is cloudy throughout the house and it does not clear after allowing the water to run for several minutes, contact Des Moines Water Works Dispatch at 283-8772.

If the kitchen or bathroom faucets do not perform normally following a water outage, it may be necessary to remove the aerator screen.  Typically, the aerator can simply be unscrewed from the faucet. Inspect the screen for small particles and rinse away any you find.  Reinstall the aerator and test performance of the faucet again.  If you experience difficulties such as low pressure throughout the house following a water outage, contact Des Moines Water Works Dispatch at 283-8772 for assistance.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Customer Service, Customers