Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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 9 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:


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 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.


Posted by: Laura Sarcone 2 Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in History July 10, 2013

Remembering the Flood of 1993

flood of 1993 aerial view 2Twenty years ago – at 3:02 a.m. on July 11, 1993 – Des Moines Water Works shut down operations after the water treatment plant and general office were inundated with flood water.

It all began July 8, when 8-10 inches of rain fell in the upper Raccoon River watershed.  On July 9, the levee was closed.  At 1:00 a.m. on July 11, water started coming over the levee.  The Raccoon River crested at the historic level of 26.75 feet, 1.75 feet higher than the levee.

The dewatering process began along with restoration of the high voltage and high service pumps, chemical feeds, and refilling the distribution system.  The National Guard air-lifted equipment in and out of the treatment plant.  Staff worked round-the-clock.  The general office was re-located.  Seven days later, DMWW began pumping potable water from the Fleur Drive plant.  Customers could use the water for sanitary use on Day 12, and the water was safe to drink on Day 19.

The levee around the water treatment plant was heightened by 6 feet.  Permanent flood gates have been installed.  A second treatment plant, the L.D. McMullen Water Treatment Plant at Maffitt Reservoir, began operation in 2000.  A third treatment plant, the Saylorville Water Treatment Plant, went online in 2011.

DMWW was forever changed by the Flood of 1993.  The product we produce daily became even more important, and our commitment to quality and service became even stronger.  The dedicated employees, tireless volunteers, and the utility’s commitment to the community allowed us to quickly recover, restore service and rebuild to bring the community safe, reliable, high quality water now and in the future.

Posted by: Pat Ripley No Comments
Labels: , Posted in Flooding, History, Uncategorized February 7, 2013

Enjoy Des Moines’ Soft Water? Thank the Federation of Women’s Clubs of 1927

Filter Building interiorIn 1927, the Des Moines Federation of Women’s Clubs petitioned to the Board of Water Works Trustees to install a municipal water softening plant to save customers money spent on soap and wear and tear on clothes. For the next 20 years there were arguments for and against construction of such a facility and then World War II delayed progress of this project until 1947.

A lengthy feature article titled “City to Enjoy Soft Water in Two Years” appeared in The Des Moines Register in November 1947.  It described the advantages of soft water and the method of treatment that would be used, and mentioned that cost of the operation of the plant might have to be financed through a raise in water rates.  The state health department engineer was quoted as saying the usual experience is that the added cost of soft water is equaled by the saving in soap alone.  He also mentioned additional savings, such as longer life of boilers and water heaters.

In December 1949, the filter and lime softening plant went into operation. It consisted of two underground basins, each with a four million gallon capacity, and the filter building which housed the laboratory, chemical feed operations, and eight filters. The filters resemble small swimming pools, each of which contains 100 tons of gravel and 130 tons of sand and holds approximately 50,000 gallons of water.

In the underground basins, lime is mixed with water to remove minerals and kill bacteria. Then the water was pumped to the filters, where it was cleaned by passing through layers of gravel and sand.

In 1958, the capacity of the filter plant doubled when two lime softening basins and eight filters were added.

The filter and lime softening processes are vital to treating the public water supply and are still being used today.

Posted by: Pat Ripley No Comments
Labels: , , , , , Posted in About Us, History, Water Treatment September 12, 2012

Des Moines’ Hidden Gem: Maffitt Reservoir Park

In 1935, Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) started to consider storing Raccoon River water as an alternative water source when river levels were low.  Following substantial drought conditions in 1939 and 1940, DMWW identified a sight for construction of a reservoir.

In 1942, Neumann Brothers Construction of Des Moines received the bid and surveying and construction began immediately.  With the assistance of DMWW’s Grounds staff, Neumann completed construction of the lake and dam nearly a year and a half later.  It was named the Dale Maffitt Reservoir in honor of the then General Manager of Des Moines Water Works.  In 2000, DMWW began operating the L. D. McMullen Water Treatment Plant at Maffitt Reservoir in effort to produce enough water for Des Moines and surrounding areas’ growing population.

In addition to the land used for the lake itself, DMWW purchased hundreds of acres surrounding the lake, in an effort to protect the watershed and ultimately the drinking water to the best of its ability.  Today, Des Moines Water Works owns and maintains nearly 1,500 acres in and around the reservoir and river.

The park is a nature lovers dream. Fishing, picnicking, and hiking are favorite pastimes at Maffitt Reservoir. For the general public’s convenience, several docks that extend nearly 20 feet into the lake are located along the shore. A nature trail of approximately 4.5 miles leads hikers around the lake.

In 2001, DMWW constructed permanent restrooms, installed wild flower areas and seal coated the park roads.  Dale Maffitt Reservoir and Park is truly a hidden gem in the Des Moines area.

Maffitt Reservoir Park is located southwest of Des Moines – take Army Post Road west, across Interstate 35 and follow the signs.

Maffitt Reservoir Park hours are 7:00 am-8:00 pm (Standard Time) and 6:00 am-9:00 pm (Daylight Savings Time). For a complete list of park rules and regulations, visit

Photo by Christopher A. Knisley – Freelance Wildlife Photographer

Posted by: Scott Atzen 3 Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in History, Maffitt Reservoir, Parks, Source Water September 6, 2012

The Old White Barn in Water Works Park

A recognizable landmark in Water Works Park is the weathered white barn just northwest of the general office building. The old barn is probably most well-known for serving as a rustic backdrop for numerous photo shoots over the years.

The barn was built around 1900 to shelter the horses that were owned by the water utility for farming operations. In those days, crops of wheat, alfalfa, corn, timothy, and clover were grown on the water supply grounds.  In 1924, farming operations were discontinued on the grounds, so most of the horses and farm equipment were sold, retaining only those necessary for maintenance of the grounds.

Most recently, Water Works Park maintenance equipment has been stored in the barn and it is now the home to a large number of bats and mice.

Questions have been received from the public about the 100+-year old barn which has had its share of flood damage.  Originally, plans had been to renovate it, but several years ago it was discovered that the barn has suffered significant termite damage that precludes putting any money into it.  It is hoped that approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can be received to relocate a section of the earthen levee near the barn and grounds shop building making room for new Water Works Park maintenance facilities on the dry side of the levee, and the current barn and shop building would be dismantled, with as much of the material salvaged as possible.

Posted by: Pat Ripley No Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in Flooding, History, Parks June 18, 2012

Founding Fathers’ Foresight

As long as Des Moines Water Works has been in existence, protecting the water resources from pollution and assuring an adequate supply of water well into the future has been utmost importance.  Thanks to the utility’s founding fathers – not to mention employees throughout the years – the growth of Des Moines Water Works has kept pace with the expanding needs of the community.

In 1884, the company began constructing an infiltration gallery system that would use groundwater from the Raccoon River.  The infiltration gallery was the only water source at the time.

By 1919, the water supply grounds covered approximately 470 acres.

In 1925, when 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 (city limits) was purchased to protect the source water and to extend the infiltration gallery.

In April of 1933, Water Works Park was opened to the public.  At that time, the water supply grounds covered 1,400 acres.  (Today, it spans 1,500 acres.)

Foreseeing a need for an emergency source of water, construction of a water storage reservoir near the Raccoon River southwest of Commerce began in 1943 (Maffitt Reservoir).  Dale Maffitt, General Manager, was quoted in the Des Moines Tribune as saying it will insure an adequate water supply for Des Moines for many years to come.

Obviously, planning for the future didn’t end in the 1940s.  Within the last 12 years, two additional water treatment facilities have been constructed.  The L. D. McMullen Water Treatment Plant at Maffitt Reservoir began operation in 2000.  Today, this water plant serves customers in southwest Des Moines, parts of Xenia and Warren Water Systems, Waukee and parts of Clive, Urbandale and West Des Moines.  The Saylorville Water Treatment Plant went online in 2011 serving customers north of Des Moines.  Long-range plans have been developed, future demand has been projected, and staff continues to prepare for the future, assuring there will be an adequate supply of water.

Posted by: Pat Ripley No Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in About Us, History, Infrastructure, Maffitt Reservoir, Saylorville Water Treatment Plant, Source Water, Water Quality June 7, 2012

Water During the Economic Depression of the 1930s

The year 1932 found the country well into a major depression.  Due to loss of jobs, many people in Des Moines were unable to pay their water bills.  Furnishing free water on a discriminatory basis was forbidden by state law, and funds of the Board of Water Works Trustees could not be used as a means of unemployment relief.  Therefore, when a water bill was not paid, the water had to be cut off.  The mayor, the city health department and others urged the Board to establish a policy of leniency in reference to discontinuing water service in certain cases where the consumer was unable to pay.

A plan was developed whereby consumers were permitted to “work out” their water bills.

The weekly payroll vouchers of the Des Moines Water Works during the years of 1932-1935 showed long lists of names, with earnings listed as $3.20.  Sometimes more than 100 names appeared with this amount, indicating a day’s work at 40 cents an hour for each person.This rate was not unreasonable, in view of the fact that the highest hourly rate paid to any regular Water Works employee was 85 cents an hour, for a 48-hour week.

At that time, a minimum water bill was $1.00 per quarter; the normal family bill was $2.25 per quarter.

In a Des Moines Register article, dated November 26, 1933, under a headline of “Projects in Des Moines Enable 4,500 to Pay Water Bills” were pictures of a rustic bridge, a roadway with new guard rails, and a stone bridge.  A story of Water Works’ program resembling the Civil Works Administration plan followed.  Consumers also helped lay water mains, inspect hydrants, and plant trees and shrubs in the “water works preserve” (now known as Water Works Park).

Economic conditions improved in 1935, and by September the list was very short, and finally “working out the water bill” was no longer necessary.

Posted by: Pat Ripley No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in About Us, Customer Service, History, Parks March 29, 2012

An Insight into DMWW’s Early History

Thanks to those before us, the early history of Des Moines Water Works was chronicled in several books of typewritten pages up until 1971, which was the centennial year of the founding of the company.  The priceless books of yellowed pages provide a glimpse into significant occurrences in years past. Sources of information for those history books included scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, official records of the Board of Water Works Trustees, and the memories of various individuals.

The following entries may not pertain to the most momentous events, but they were notable.  And as brief as some of the notations are, they tell the whole story.

September 1922:  “An article titled “Des Moines Municipal Pumping Station” appeared in the magazine National Engineer.  The article, illustrated by large pictures of the new steam turbine-driven centrifugal pumping unit, boiler feed pumps, and coal crane and pits, was written by A.T. Luce, engineer and superintendent of the Des Moines Municipal Water Plant.”

November 16, 1922:  “The General Manager was instructed to furnish the Board with an itemized statement of the cost of operation and maintenance for the various automobiles used in connection with the Water Plant.  This report shows that the Water Plant owned 22 trucks and roadsters, purchase dates varying from 1913 to 1922, a Dodge Coupe purchased in 1922, and a Peerless, purchase date not indicated.”

May 15, 1924:  “To discontinue paying wages in cash and to pay by check.”

July 17, 1924:  “Board to discontinue farming operations on water supply grounds.”

December 5, 1929:  “News story in Des Moines Tribune quoting Mr. Denman (DMWW General Manager) as saying that too many people were still getting water by waving the pump handle up and down instead of connecting to the city water mains.”

March 5, 1931:  “Directional sign for aviators to be painted on top of new water tower.” (Hazen tower)

February 8, 1939:  “The General Manager was authorized to purchase three horses to be used on the water supply grounds.”

December 31, 1956: “Year 1956 was Iowa’s driest on record.”

July 8, 1959:  “Water Board sells the locomotive.”  (In 1956, a steam engine was purchased by DMWW to serve as a backup to the boiler. According to “old timers” in Water Production, the locomotive’s boiler was never fired.)

August 25, 1960:  “Water Works laboratory testing 10,000 elms on Water Works property for Dutch elm disease.”

August 14, 1963:  “Four boys turn on 47 fire hydrants in the night.”

July 13, 1965:  “Water Board to be represented at ground breaking ceremonies for Saylorville Dam on July 17.”

January 24, 1966:  “Fleur Drive to be widened.”

February 17, 1970:  “Snowmobiling not approved for Water Works Park or Maffitt Reservoir.”

We hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into Des Moines Water Works’ history. Do you have any early memories of Des Moines Water Works?

Photo of steam locomotive #1678 taken by Richard Ikenberry.

Posted by: Pat Ripley No Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in About Us, Board of Trustees, History