Archive for the ‘Board of Trustees’ Category

April 20, 2017

Contact Your State Representative Today

State Representative Jarad Klein is making a last ditch effort to dismantle Des Moines Water Works by sneaking the language from House File 484 into House File 655, which deals with the Local Option Sales Tax for our schools.  It’s bad enough that some in the legislature felt compelled to meddle with local independent utilities, but to try and pass legislation that would impact 500,000 people in central Iowans without people knowing about it is simply wrong. Contact your state representative and tell them to stop playing games with your local water utility.

Last week, Central Iowa Regional Drinking Water Commission (CIRDWC) passed a resolution opposing the legislation that would dissolve independent water utilities in Des Moines, Urbandale, and West Des Moines.  CIRDWC also sent the below letter to State Representatives.

Dear Representative:
The Central Iowa Regional Drinking Water Commission (CIRDWC) respectfully requests that you vote “no” if asked to support HF484, a bill that dissolves the water utility boards of Urbandale, West Des Moines and Des Moines.

Central Iowa currently has a commission to further regionalization — CIRDWC, a coalition of metro area public water suppliers which are already collaborating on regionalization plans. The role of CIRDWC in the coming months will be elevated even further as we endeavor to regionalize.

  • Regionalization is extremely complex and must be left to water professionals. CIRDWC has taken a methodical, data-driven approach to regionalization thus far: production, distribution, permitting, demand projections and asset management decisions are extremely complex and must be left to water professionals—those who have decades of experience in the field.
  • Regionalization should not be forced onto communities that may not be able to afford it. Forced regionalization, if mandated by state law, may force communities to contribute millions of dollars to buy in. Costly and important decisions such as this must be left to local control within the communities.
  • Regionalization is a local interest and should be addressed by local water professionals and leaders who are knowledgeable of the intricacies of our systems and communities, and who wish to work in a collaborative manner towards improved source water quality.
  • Dissolution of the water utility boards and transferring assets and operation into their respective cities as a step toward regionalization is unnecessary. The current bill would dissolve the utility boards of Des Moines, Urbandale and West Des Moines. Nothing is gained by moving the utilities from their current structure to a city department. The forced transition of finances, contracts, employee benefits, etc. will create months of work and chaos not to mention the costs that would be borne by the ratepayers.

Thank you for your time and for your opposition to HF484 and/or any amendments concerning regionalization.

Respectfully submitted,
22 Members of Central Iowa Regional Drinking Water Commission

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 3 Comments
Labels: , , Posted in About Us, Board of Trustees, Customer Service March 21, 2017

HF 484/SF 456 A Gamble Not Worth Taking

Legislative Overreach

  • This legislation stands in stark contrast to Home Rule (the right for local self-government).
  • Iowa Code Chapter 388, states that a city may establish or dispose of a city utility, but it is subject to the approval of the voters of the city.
  • This legislation takes the right to vote out of the hands of the citizens of Des Moines, West Des Moines, and Urbandale.
  • In a recent survey of the Des Moines metro, 88% of registered voters said that people who live in the community should have final say over whether to remove an independent utility.
  • The poll results mirror the results of the West Des Moines vote in 2003, on whether or not to dissolve its independent water utility.

Regionalization is already Underway and should not be forced

  • Safe drinking water is a public health issue, and should not be gambled.
  • Regionalization needs to be done in a thoughtful and meaningful manner.
  • Des Moines Water Works is open to and has been actively participating in regionalization discussions for the past few years.
  • It is not necessary for the legislature to create a study committee to examine regionalization because one already exists.  It’s called CIRDWC – Central Iowa Regional Drinking Water Commission.
  • CIRDWC has already completed a regionalization study, and is now in the final stages of a 20-year forecast of the water needs in central Iowa.
  • CIRDWC already provides every metro community with a seat at the table.  This legislative action would not only duplicate and confuse ongoing efforts, but also disregard the work that has already be done.

HF 484 is a mess

  • It takes the management of delivering safe and affordable drinking water from professionals and puts in the hands of politicians.
  • HF 484, as written, has no plan, no mechanism for funding, no assurance that technical experts will be involved.
  • The bill has been changed numerous times; it has had new amendments and language added and then deleted.  The 500,000 people who rely on Des Moines Water Works have been left in the dark.
  • Water utility boards were set up independent from city councils for a reason – to protect a public health necessity from politics.  Simply stated, it is an independent local water utility owned by its customers and it works, and has worked for 100 years.
Posted by: Laura Sarcone 8 Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in Board of Trustees, History, Infrastructure, Public Policy, Source Water, Water Quality, Water Treatment March 17, 2017

New Des Moines Water radio ad warns of the downfalls regarding handing over the water utility to politicians.

DES MOINES, Iowa (March 17, 2017) – In response to legislation being considered by the Iowa House of Representatives, the Des Moines Water Works began running radio ads in central Iowa this week that encourages people to contact their state legislators and ask them to oppose House File 484.

The ad, entitled “Drip,” outlines the problems with letting politicians take over this independent utility. The ad also reminds listeners of the $40 million class action the City of Des Moines lost by illegally placing additional fees on gas and electric utility bills.

The legislation pending in the Iowa House would dissolve the Des Moines Water Works and transfer the utilities assets and management over to the Des Moines city council. A recent poll conducted by Harper Polling from March 9th to 12th found that 86% of registered voters rated the quality service provided by their local water utility at excellent or good.

“There is absolutely no need to dismantle the water boards in the metro area that have decades of experience of delivering safe and affordable drinking water,“ said Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager, Des Moines Water Works.  “Water utility boards were set up independent from city councils for a reason – to protect a public health necessity from politics.”

In addition to high marks from water quality and service, the poll also shows that voters overwhelmingly oppose the legislation. Only 15 percent of respondents favor the controversial bill, while 68 percent oppose it.   Additionally, the survey showed a staggering 88 percent of voters believe that people who live in the community should have the final say over whether or not to remove an independent utility, not the state legislature (5%).

Click here to listen to the ad.

Script of the ad:

FEMALE VOICE-OVER TALENT/SFX

Drip…Drip…Drip… (SFX)

“That sound you hear… it’s the slow drip of big government grabbing hold of another part of your life.”

“…this time…

Kids splashing at pool, pouring a glass of water, a sprinkler in the yard, and faucet or shower being turned on. (SFX)

…it’s your water.

For nearly one hundred years, the Des Moines Water Works has delivered safe and affordable drinking water… it was set up independent from the Des Moines city council for one reason – to protect OUR drinking water from politics.

… but now…politicians in the state legislature… have a bill to dismantle the Des Moines Water Works… HF 484… which would give control over to the City of Des Moines. The same city of Des Moines that has a track record of financial mismanagement and recently lost a $40 million class action lawsuit over charging gas and electric customers an illegal fee.

Don’t let the management of delivering us safe and affordable drinking water be put it in the hands of politicians.

Call your State representatives today at 515-281-3221 and tell them to STOP playing politics with your drinking water, and vote NO on HF 484

Paid for by the Des Moines Water Works.

About Des Moines Water Works

Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) is a municipal water utility serving the citizens of Des Moines and surrounding communities (approximately 500,000 people). DMWW is an independently operated public utility with a commitment to leading, advocating and investing today and in the future to deliver water you can trust for life.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 6 Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Board of Trustees, History, Infrastructure, Public Policy, Water Quality, Water Treatment March 14, 2017

CENTRAL IOWANS RATE THEIR WATER QUALITY ‘EXCELLENT’ AND OPPOSE HF484/SF456

DES MOINES, Iowa (March 14, 2017) – More than two-thirds of registered voters in the Des Moines metro oppose legislation that would disband the independent governing boards of the Des Moines, Urbandale and West Des Moines water works, and turn over management of the water utility and its assets to their local city councils.

The poll commissioned by the Des Moines Water Works, and conducted by Harper Polling from March 912, shows 68 percent of respondents oppose House File 484, while only 15 percent favor the controversial bill that is making its way through the Iowa legislature.

“The poll confirms what we have believed all along, that the legislation is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager, Des Moines Water Works.  “Metro utilities have done an outstanding job for decades of planning and implementing the supply, treatment, and transmissions projects necessary to ensure everyone in the metro has access to quality water in adequate quantities at reasonable rates.”

In addition to surveying residents’ attitudes toward proposed legislation, the poll also found an overwhelming 85 percent of respondents rated the quality of and access to water as “good” or “excellent.”   An equally impressive 86 percent of voters rated the quality of service provided by their water utility as either “good” or “excellent.”

Voters are also clear in who they believe is best qualified to manage their local water utility. A clear majority (55%), believe an independent board of trustees is better suited to manage a water utility than their local city council (23%). This is a topic that bridges political and ideological divides with majorities of Republicans (51%), Democrats (59%), and Independents (55%).

Voters also believe this is an issue that is best dealt with by local residents and not the state legislature. A staggering 88 percent of voters believe that people who live in the community should have the final say over whether or not to remove an independent utility, not the state legislature (5%).

Click the links below to view the full poll results:

17.03 HF 484 IA Toplines

17.03 HF 484 IA Crosstabs-2

17.03 HF 484 IA Key Findings

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 3 Comments
Labels: , , , , , Posted in Board of Trustees, Customer Service, Customers, Public Policy, Water Quality March 8, 2017

Contact the Des Moines City Council

On Monday, March 20, the Des Moines City Council is scheduled to vote on whether the city should support House File 484, a controversial bill that would eliminate the Des Moines Water Works. Call them and urge them to vote no.

Mayor Frank Cownie
Email: fcownie@dmgov.org
City Hall Phone: (515) 283-4944
Home Phone: (515) 255-3644

Bill Gray – Ward 1
Email: BillGray@dmgov.org
City Hall Phone: (515) 237-1623
Home Phone: (515) 274-0077

Linda Westergaard – Ward 2
Email: LindaW@dmgov.org
Home Phone: (515) 988-4288

Christine Hensley – Ward 3
Email: CLHensley@dmgov.org
City Hall Phone: (515) 237-1625
Home Phone: (515) 255-4716

Joe Gatto – Ward 4
Email: joegatto@dmgov.org
Home Phone: (515) 402-2626

Christopher Coleman – Ward 5
Email: ccoleman@dmgov.org
City Hall Phone: (515) 237-1622
Home Phone: (515) 276-7644

Skip Moore – At Large
Email: skipmoore@dmgov.org
Home Phone: (515) 681-9804

Why You Should Stand Against HF 484

House File 484 is a bill being considered in the Iowa Legislature  that would disband the governing boards of the Des Moines, Urbandale, and West Des Moines water works. If signed into law, these three independent utilities would be forced to turn over management and their assets to the city councils in each city.

This is a diversion

  • There is no drinking water quality crisis in the Des Moines metro area that would necessitate the state legislature stepping in.
  • The real problem is source water quality in the state. The Legislature should be focused on water quality – not local water production.
  • Metro utilities have done an outstanding job for decades of planning and implementing the supply, treatment, and transmissions projects necessary to ensure everyone in the metro has access to quality water in adequate quantities at reasonable rates.

Legislative overreach

  • This legislation stands in stark contrast to Home Rule (the right for local self-government)
  • Iowa Code Chapter 388, states that a city may establish or dispose of a city utility, but it is subject to the approval of the voters of the city.
  • This legislation takes the right to vote out of the hands of the citizens of Des Moines, West Des Moines, and Urbandale.
  • Approximately 15 years ago, West Des Moines asked the citizens of West Des Moines to vote on dissolving their water board. More than 90% of the voters said no. This legislation will allow them to take over the utility without it going to the voters.
  • This is clearly an effort to bypass existing law and the will of the people.

Current version of the bill doesn’t even address regionalization

  • The amended bill doesn’t create a regional water authority, which was ostensibly the reason for the original legislation.
  • Regionalization, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. This is why a coalition of 22 metro water utilities commissioned a study in 2014.
  • House File 484 would dismantle in an instant all of our accomplishments today. The metro water utilities will find a solution to our region’s future water needs by continuing the dialogue, not dismantling what has already been done.

Why water boards were set up independently

  • Water utility boards were set up independent from city councils for a reason – to protect a public health necessity from politics. Simply stated, it is an independent local water utility owned by its customers and it works, and has worked for 100 years.
  • There is absolutely no need to dismantle the water boards in the metro area that have decades of experience of delivering safe and affordable drinking water, and have long histories of financial diligence that have resulted in healthy water systems at relatively affordable rates.
  • Currently, water rates are reinvested in the water system, funding imperative capital improvements – for example, over $3 million this year in water main replacement projects for Des Moines.
  • It is no secret the City of Des Moines needs new revenue sources. If assets, responsibilities and revenue are transferred to City of Des Moines, portions of water rates could be funneled to the general fund of City of Des Moines, circumventing needed infrastructure plans.
  • Takes the management of delivering safe and affordable drinking water from professionals and puts in the hands of politicians.

Why you should stand against HF 484

  • This is a solution looking for a non-existent problem.
  • The legislature is sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong.
  • The proposed legislation actually impedes the regions ability to create a regional water authority.
  • House File 484 sets a dangerous precedent for all of Iowa’s 500 independent utilities boards.
  • Legislation could impede economic growth as it puts a freeze planning and construction of new water treatment facilities.
  • House File 484 is an example of politics at its worst. This legislation is clearly retaliation for the Clean Water Lawsuit, and shows no regard to the 500,000 people who depend on Des Moines Water Works for clean and affordable drinking water ever day.
  • As we saw in Flint, Michigan, when financially strained cities make decisions for purely economic reasons, the results can be catastrophic.

 

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 2 Comments
Posted in Board of Trustees, Customers, Value of Water, Water Quality March 8, 2017

Why You Should Stand Against HF 484


House File 484
is a bill that would disband the governing boards of the Des Moines, Urbandale, and West Des Moines water works. If signed into law, these three independent utilities would be forced to turn over management and their assets to the city councils in each city.

This is a diversion

  • There is no drinking water quality crisis in the Des Moines metro area that would necessitate the state legislature stepping in.
  • The real problem is source water quality in the state. The Legislature should be focused on water quality – not local water production.
  • Metro utilities have done an outstanding job for decades of planning and implementing the supply, treatment, and transmissions projects necessary to ensure everyone in the metro has access to quality water in adequate quantities at reasonable rates.

Legislative overreach

  • This legislation stands in stark contrast to Home Rule (the right for local self-government)
  • Iowa Code Chapter 388, states that a city may establish or dispose of a city utility, but it is subject to the approval of the voters of the city.
  • This legislation takes the right to vote out of the hands of the citizens of Des Moines, West Des Moines, and Urbandale.
  • Approximately 15 years ago, West Des Moines asked the citizens of West Des Moines to vote on dissolving their water board. More than 90% of the voters said no. This legislation will allow them to take over the utility without it going to the voters.
  • This is clearly an effort to bypass existing law and the will of the people.

Current version of the bill doesn’t even address regionalization

  • The amended bill doesn’t create a regional water authority, which was ostensibly the reason for the original legislation.
  • Regionalization, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. This is why a coalition of 22 metro water utilities commissioned a study in 2014.
  • House File 484 would dismantle in an instant all of our accomplishments today. The metro water utilities will find a solution to our region’s future water needs by continuing the dialogue, not dismantling what has already been done.

Why water boards were set up independently

  • Water utility boards were set up independent from city councils for a reason – to protect a public health necessity from politics. Simply stated, it is an independent local water utility owned by its customers and it works, and has worked for 100 years.
  • There is absolutely no need to dismantle the water boards in the metro area that have decades of experience of delivering safe and affordable drinking water, and have long histories of financial diligence that have resulted in healthy water systems at relatively affordable rates.
  • Currently, water rates are reinvested in the water system, funding imperative capital improvements – for example, over $3 million this year in water main replacement projects for Des Moines.
  • It is no secret the City of Des Moines needs new revenue sources. If assets, responsibilities and revenue are transferred to City of Des Moines, portions of water rates could be funneled to the general fund of City of Des Moines, circumventing needed infrastructure plans.
  • Takes the management of delivering safe and affordable drinking water from professionals and puts in the hands of politicians.

Why you should stand against HF 484

  • This is a solution looking for a non-existent problem.
  • The legislature is sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong.
  • The proposed legislation actually impedes the regions ability to create a regional water authority.
  • House File 484 sets a dangerous precedent for all of Iowa’s 500 independent utilities boards.
  • Legislation could impede economic growth as it puts a freeze planning and construction of new water treatment facilities.
  • House File 484 is an example of politics at its worst. This legislation is clearly retaliation for the Clean Water Lawsuit, and shows no regard to the 500,000 people who depend on Des Moines Water Works for clean and affordable drinking water ever day.
  • As we saw in Flint, Michigan, when financially strained cities make decisions for purely economic reasons, the results can be catastrophic.

 

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 8 Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Board of Trustees, Customer Service, Customers, Rates November 21, 2016

2017 Budget and Water Rates

Des Moines Water Works staff has proposed Des Moines Water Works’ 2017 calendar year budget, which includes revenue from 2017 rate increases for all service areas.  The Board of Water Works Trustees will hold a public hearing for the proposed 2017 budget on Tuesday, November 22, 2016, at 3:30 p.m. at Des Moines Water Works’ general office, located at 2201 George Flagg Parkway, in Des Moines.

The Board approved a 10 percent rate increase for most customers at their October meeting. The rate increase equates to an additional $2.78 per month for water charges for a four-person household (using 7,500 gallons) in Des Moines.  Alleman customers will see a 15 percent rate increase based on capital improvements made to their water system.  In addition, a five percent increase for the Wholesale With Storage rate was approved.  The rate increases will result in approximately $3.3 million of increased water revenue for 2017.  New water rates will go into effect April 1, 2017.  For a complete listing of Des Moines Water Works’ 2017 water rate structure, visit www.dmww.com/about-us/announcements.

The proposed 2017 budget includes $62 million of operating revenue. Additional funding from outside entities of nearly $16 million will fund joint projects.

The proposed 2017 operating expenses are budgeted at $41.6 million, an increase of $1 million from 2016, primarily due to increases in labor and benefits and plant maintenance expenses.  Capital infrastructure costs are budgeted at $29.6 million. Additional funding sources of $16 million leaves approximately $13.6 million of capital projects to be funded from the utility’s revenues. This compares to approximately $10.7 million of capital projects budgeted from the utility’s revenues in 2016.  In addition to operating and capital expenditures, $5.3 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.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in Board of Trustees, Customer Service, Customers, Rates 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.
Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , , Posted in About Us, Board of Trustees, Public Policy, Source Water, Water Quality 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.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 2 Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Board of Trustees, Source Water, Water Quality 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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