Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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 March 8, 2012

Utility and Beauty

In the early years of Des Moines Water Works, an ornamental pool was a very popular public attraction. Located inside the Fleur Drive Treatment Plant – just south of the pumping station, Water Works Park visitors were welcome to visit the pool and stroll around the grounds.

The pool was built in the early 1920s, when the pumping station was being constructed.  The dirt from the excavation of the pool was used to raise the elevation of the pumping station.

Each corner of the pool was adorned with a large brass frog with water spouting from its mouth.   The decorative frogs were designed by sculptor Florence Sprague, an instructor in Drake University’s Art Department.

Shortly after completion of the pumping station, The Des Moines Tribune published pictures of the interior and exterior of the new facility in June 1923.  A photograph of the pool was included with this caption: “Utility and Beauty – this beautiful bit of artistry does not adorn the gardens of some multimillionaire’s estate – it is to be found on the grounds of the Des Moines Municipal Water Plant.”

The pool became affectionately known as the goldfish pond after a retiring business owner donated some goldfish.  When donated, the goldfish were small but grew to be six inches and weighed one pound each.

In the 1970s the pool was filled in because it was structurally unsafe.  And since then, access to the treatment plant has been restricted to the general public for security reasons.  To this day, nothing has been built on top of the old goldfish pond.  It remains a “green space” in the treatment plant.

Two of the four brass frogs from the pond are now on display at Des Moines Water Works’ museum inside the Fleur Drive Treatment Plant.  Who has the other two brass frogs remains a mystery …

Posted by: Pat Ripley No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in About Us, History, Parks February 17, 2012

What’s in a Name?

The Arie Den Boer Arboretum, Dale Maffitt Reservoir, Denman Woods . . . have you ever wondered about the history behind the names?  Namesakes of property and facilities owned by Des Moines Water Works include former general managers, Board of Trustees members, and employees whose strategic visions helped the water utility evolve into the industry leader it is today.

Charles Sing Denman’s 37-year career began in 1896 when the water company was privately owned.  He was the first general manager, appointed in 1919, when the water company became municipally owned.  During his tenure, the water system experienced tremendous growth and many of the facilities in use today were constructed under his direction.  As a testament to his love of nature, the western tract of land that extends along both sides of the Raccoon River in Water Works Park was designated as Denman Woods.  A concrete bench was erected in his memory in 1937 inside the Fleur Drive treatment plant, which was moved to its current location at Water Works Park in the late 1970s when the Charles Sing Denman Memorial Garden was dedicated. 

In 1928, Arie den Boer, a horticulturist, was hired to beautify Water Works’ grounds and create a park, which was opened to the public in 1933.  Mr. den Boer introduced several hundred varieties of crabapple trees and won numerous prestigious awards for his work in horticulture.  The crabapple arboretum was named in Mr. den Boer’s honor when he retired in 1961, after serving as grounds superintendent for 33 years.

The water tower at 48th and Hickman is a memorial to Allen Hazen who designed the tower and unexpectedly died in 1930 before construction was completed.  Mr. Hazen was a prominent New York engineer of international reputation and a pioneer in the area of water treatment.   

Dale L. Maffitt was the general manager when 650 acres southwest of Des Moines were purchased in 1942 to construct a dam and water storage reservoir to be used as an emergency water supply.  The 200-acre impounding reservoir and surrounding area was named for Mr. Maffitt after his death in 1955, following 41 years of employment, 22 of which he led the utility as general manager.  

Henry Nollen and Norman Wilchinski were long-term Board of Trustees members, both of whom served on the first water board of 1919.  Two water storage facilities built in 1955 were named after them.  The Nollen Standpipe is at 26th and Hull and the Wilchinski Standpipe is at SE 9th and Pleasantview Drive. 

The Tenny Standpipe at Merle Hay Mall, which was built in 1959, is a tribute to Morris K. Tenny.  A 44-year employee, Mr. Tenny held the positions of chemist and assistant manager, prior to serving as general manager for 13 years.  He was instrumental in the growth of the Water Works.   

Maurice King’s employment with the Water Works spanned nearly 43 years.  The Maurice A. King Intake and Pumping Station facility on the Des Moines River was named after Mr. King who served as General Manager from 1968-1977.

The L.P. Moon Storage and Pumping Station facility was named in recognition of a former long-term Board member, Louise P. Moon.  Located in Clive, this west side facility was placed on-line in 1996.  Ms. Moon currently serves as Windsor Heights’ representative on the Central Iowa Regional Drinking Water Commission, of which Des Moines Water Works is a member.

In May of 2000, the Water Treatment Plant at Maffitt Reservoir, a 25 million gallon per day facility, began operation using nine radial collector wells for its main water source, but also drawing from Maffitt Reservoir for additional water resources.  In 2007, it was renamed in honor of L.D. McMullen, a 30-year employee who served as general manager from 1985-2007 and was instrumental in construction of the water treatment plant. 

We are proud of these visionaries and their contributions to Des Moines Water Works and the community.

Posted by: Pat Ripley No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in About Us, Employees, History, Parks January 19, 2012

Who Owns Des Moines Water Works?

Owned by the citizens of Des Moines and managed by a Board of Trustees, Des Moines Water Works is independent from the City of Des Moines.  But it wasn’t always that way.

The Des Moines Water Company was formed in 1871 as a privately owned company.  In 1898, the City tried to purchase the company but the citizens voted it down.   The vote eventually passed in 1911, but the sale wasn’t finalized.   It was not until 1919 that a favorable vote of the citizens brought about public ownership by the City.  The water company was organized as a public utility under the Code of Iowa, and the name was changed to Des Moines Water Works.  At that time, the population of Des Moines was about 125,000, and there were 23,210 water services. 

In 1923, the legislature removed the Board of Water Works Trustees from the City Council’s supervision.  At that time, it became law that the Board would have the same powers as the City Council with the exception of levying taxes, and members would be appointed by the Mayor, subject to approval by the City Council.  The Board is responsible for appointing the chief executive officer/general manager who is accountable for operation of the utility in accordance with law and Board policies.

In summary, Des Moines Water Works is an independently operated public utility with a commitment to providing quality water in reliable quantities to approximately 500,000 people in the Greater Des Moines area.

Posted by: Pat Ripley 3 Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in About Us, Board of Trustees, Customers, History March 7, 2011

Des Moines Water Storage

Water towers are something most of us probably don’t think about until we see one on the horizon.  To Des Moines Water Works (DMWW), water storage facilities are a vital part of the infrastructure and a significant part of the utility’s history.  DMWW owns and maintains numerous water storage facilities.  From a technical standpoint, water storage facilities are divided into three categories:  water towers, standpipes and ground storage.  Water towers are basically large storage tanks on legs.  Standpipes are simply tall vertical tanks.  Ground storage reservoirs are shorter but larger diameter storage tanks that sit on or slightly below ground.

Des Moines’ first water storage facility was constructed in 1891 at 17th Street and Crocker.  Made of steel with a lacy ironwork railing and spiral stairway, it held 530,000 gallons of water.  It was torn down in 1939 after 40 years of service. 

The Hazen Tower at 4800 Hickman is the oldest and technically, the only water tower in Des Moines.  Constructed of concrete and steel in 1930-1931, the 110 foot tower, which holds 1.7 million gallons (mg) in its elevated tank, was named after Allen Hazen who designed the tower.  A prominent New York engineer and pioneer in the area of water treatment, he died before construction was completed.  For many years, a large arrow was painted on the top of the tower to point the way to the airport for pilots. 

In 1955, two standpipes were built and named after long-term Board of Water Works Trustees members.  The Nollen Standpipe at 26th and Hull is Des Moines’ largest, with a capacity of 4.2 mg.  The Wilchinski Standpipe at SE 9th and Pleasantview Drive stores slightly more than 2 mg.

Probably the most familiar is the Tenny standpipe because of its location near Sears at Merle Hay Mall.  Construction of this 4.1 mg water storage facility was completed in 1960 and named after Morris K. Tenny, who served as the General Manager of DMWW from 1955-1968.

Water storage facilities outside the city of Des Moines which are owned and operated by DMWW include two towers in Southeast Polk with a combined capacity of 0.7mg.  The smaller tower (0.3 mg) located at 6538 NE 12th Ave., is scheduled to be removed the summer of 2011.  Other facilities in Polk County include the Polk County Ground Storage Tank on NE 14th St.  which holds 5 mg; the L.P. Moon Ground Storage Facility (named after a former Board member) in Clive stores 6 mg and the Shared East Side Elevated Storage Tank, which holds 2.5 mg, was built in 2009-2010, bordering between Pleasant Hill and Altoona.  (Interestingly enough, Pleasant Hill’s logo is on the south side of the facility and Altoona’s is on the north side).

Posted by: Pat Ripley 1 Comment
Labels: , , , , Posted in About Us, History October 10, 2010

Des Moines Water Works Using Social Media

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’re on Facebook as Des Moines Water Works, and Twitter at DSMH2O. Please join the conversation!

We welcome your feedback.  Are there topics of particular interest to you?  Let us know how we can improve service to you, our customers.

Posted by: Randy Beavers 3 Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in About Us, Customers, Des Moines Botanical Center, Des Moines Water Works Park, Education, History, Maffitt Reservoir, Public Policy, Value of Water October 5, 2010

Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees

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.

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