Archive for the ‘Water Quality’ Category

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 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 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 December 11, 2017

Real-time Analyses for Emerging Contaminants

Scientists in all areas of life science, including basic research, biotechnology, medicine, forensics, diagnostics, and industry, are utilizing molecular techniques in a wide range of applications.  Real-time or quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) is a widely used method in many of these areas of science and is the most studied of the new methods for detecting and quantifying microbes (i.e. bacteria, viruses, protozoa, etc.) in water.

This technology has many advantages, which make it attractive for measuring microbes in water.  The qPCR method is very specific to the target organisms being detected. In addition, the qPCR technology is very rapid, with results in about two to three hours (compared to detecting and identifying microbes with cultural methods that require about 24 hours, with some microbes requiring several days or weeks before they appear in culture).

Des Moines Water Works recently purchased qPCR equipment which will allow staff to greatly expand monitoring capabilities, with the ability to look for a multitude of organisms from a small amount of sample utilizing a single instrument.  Specifically, staff will begin analyzing toxic versus non-toxic blooms of cyanobacteria, as well as specific gene targets for toxin production.  Harmful algal blooms (HABs), which are large, rapid-growing populations of cyanobacteria, are caused by excess nutrients from farm fertilizer.

In some instances, cyanobacteria contain genes that allow them to produce toxins, which raise health concerns.  In 2014, the City of Toledo, OH, issued a “do not drink” order for several days to its 500,000 customers.  A toxin released by cyanobacteria in Lake Erie contaminated the water supply.  The toxins produced by cyanobacteria are unregulated and emerging contaminants; however, Des Moines Water Works has embraced the health advisory and protocols, and has invested in new protocols and equipment to monitor proactively.


Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality, Water Treatment August 24, 2017

Purple Martin Lake Water Resource Area Opens for Public Use

The metro’s newest recreational area is open for outdoor enthusiasts. On Thursday, August 24, Des Moines Water Works, along with Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the City of West Des Moines and the Friends of Walnut Woods State Park held a grand opening of Purple Martin Lake Water Resource Area, located off Army Post Road, southwest of Walnut Woods State Park.

Purple Martin Lake Water Resource Area is owned by Des Moines Water Works and was a former sand, rock and gravel quarry that now serves dual purposes of drinking water source for Des Moines Water Works customers and recreational use.  The area will offer hiking, jogging and walking, along with all non-motor recreation on the water, similar to Maffitt Reservoir.

“The former quarry provides an operational benefit to Des Moines Water Works’ ability to produce safe, affordable and abundant drinking water to 500,000 central Iowans; however, it was recognized early on the inherent benefits of the property.  Des Moines Water Works appreciates the initiative and dedication of Iowa Department of Natural Resources staff to manage the property as an extension of Walnut Woods State Park.  This partnership is consistent with Des Moines Water Works goal of stewardship of public land, and will additionally provide an opportunity to highlight the story of water,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager, Des Moines Water Works.

Through an agreement with Des Moines Water Works, the DNR will manage Purple Martin Lake Water Resource Area and the area surrounding the lake as an extension of the DNR’s neighboring Walnut Woods State Park.

“We are thrilled to oversee this new hub for outdoor recreation. This area will provide one more option locally to get outside and enjoy the great resources Iowa has to offer. It is a top priority for the DNR to provide great areas like this to help attract newcomers outdoors to enjoy nature,” said Chuck Gipp, Director, Iowa DNR.

The area is named after the Purple Martin bird species and has several Purple Martin birdhouses and an area for visitors to view the birds. The name came about and project came to fruition through collaboration among the Des Moines Water Works, Department of Natural Resources, City of West Des Moines and the Friends of Walnut Woods State Park. The Purple Martin is the largest North American swallow but their populations are undergoing long-term declines in many parts of North America.  Purple Martins rely almost entirely on human-supplied housing and IDNR had grant money for the installation of a number of Purple Martin houses.

The area will be open daily from 6:00 am – 10:30 pm.

Directions From Interstate 35 and/or Hwy 5:  From Interstate 35 take exit 68 (Hwy. 5).  From Hwy. 5 take exit #102 (35th St.) for Walnut Woods State Park.  Drive North to Army Post Rd.  then turn left (west) on Army Post Rd.  to SE 42nd St.  Continue west on Army Post Rd. for .4 miles to the entrance to Purple Martin Lake.

From Interstate 235 take exit for 63rd St./Hwy. 28 south.  Take Hwy. 28/63rd St. south (crossing Grand Ave. & Park Ave.) to Army Post Rd./Willow Creek St.  Turn right/west on Army Post Rd./Willow Creek St. to Veterans Pkwy. Turn left/south on Veterans Pkwy then turn right again(west) on Army Post Rd. go west on Army Post Rd. to SE 42nd St continue on Army Post Rd. for .4 miles to entrance to Purple Martin Lake.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Conservation, Parks, Source Water August 9, 2017

Citizen Water Academy of Central Iowa

Though Des Moines Water Works has successfully supplied safe, abundant and affordable drinking water to central Iowans for almost 100 years, the associated planning, production, distribution, monitoring and challenges presented by contaminated source water are not common knowledge among most citizens.  With water quality on the minds of Central Iowans, Des Moines Water Works is launching a Citizen Water Academy of Central Iowa in an effort to engage the public in more detail about the evolution of drinking water and understand plans for the future that meet the growing needs of our community.

The Citizen Water Academy is a free, four-session crash course about the history, use and management of water in the Central Iowa region.  The Academy is designed to help current and emerging leaders in our community learn and appreciate our most important natural resource, the water we depend on for life.  Attendees will receive 16 hours of instruction, tour multiple treatment plants operated by Des Moines Water Works, listen to over 15 presentations from soil and water experts, and interact with our expert Des Moines Water Works staff over the 4 courses of the program.  It is our hope that participants not only come away from the Academy with a better understanding of their local water utility, but are also equipped to help lead the debate on important water issues now and in the future.

For more information on the Citizen Water Academy and to apply to be a part of the inaugural class, visit  For specific questions, contact Jennifer Terry, at (515) 283-8706 or

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in About Us, Education, Health, History, Infrastructure, Public Policy, Source Water, Value of Water, Water Quality, Water Treatment June 29, 2017

Board of Water Works Trustees Receive and File $178 Million Five Year Capital Improvement Plan

The Board of Water Works Trustees received and filed staff’s recommended five year capital improvement plan at their regularly scheduled board meeting on June 27.  While the Board did not take immediate action on specific projects within the capital improvement plan, it does lay the groundwork and set a course for investments needed to meet federal drinking water standards, improve or expand water infrastructure, and enhance technology through 2021.  In the fall of 2017, the Board of Water Works Trustees will approve one year operating and capital budgets for calendar year 2018.

“The five year Capital Improvement Plan is the most aggressive view of the capital improvements Des Moines Water Works may need over the next five years,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager, Des Moines Water Works. “The plan includes improvements for source, treatment, storage, pumping, and transmission, for the benefit of the central Iowa region.”

The capital improvement plan is intentionally comprehensive, with over $178 million in investments identified.  It establishes a path of anticipated needs based on a defined set of assumptions, such as population growth and water quality.  The plan will change as assumptions are modified based on actual experience, such as regulatory requirements, demand growth, and water quality vulnerabilities.

Concurrently, staff is developing and finalizing, with significant input from suburban customers through the Central Iowa Regional Drinking Water Commission’s Technical Advisory Committee, a long range plan through 2040.  The Long Range Plan will be a framework for water needs in the Des Moines metro area for the next 20 years.  This five year plan is a step toward the long range plan.

The five year plan includes important source, treatment, storage and transmission projects identified in the 2040 long range plan like a shallow alluvial wellfield along the Des Moines River which will provide natural denitrification of source water, expansion of the nitrate removal facility, two new aquifer storage and recovery wells, additional transmission mains to suburban customers, increased water main replacements within Des Moines and unincorporated Polk County, and the design of an expansion at Saylorville Water Treatment Plant.

Des Moines Water Works is committed to managing and optimizing available financial resources.  Financing may involve a combination of bonding, grants, water rates, purchased capacity, and State Revolving Fund (SRF) loans.  Many components of the plan are “modular,” and may be completed in smaller increments over time to allow for more flexibility in financing and to ensure investments meet changing priorities.

“The five year capital improvement plan demonstrates today’s prioritization of infrastructure plans, under constant review. Water system infrastructure improvements are critical to the health and success of our community.  Des Moines Water Works has been providing safe, affordable and abundant drinking water to Central Iowa since 1919 and is committed to meeting the region’s needs for the next 100 years,” said Stowe.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Board of Trustees, Customers, Infrastructure, Rates, Water Quality June 12, 2017

How much longer will Iowa keep ignoring source water quality?

Listen to news reports about water quality efforts in Iowa, and you might start to think that no one wants to admit there’s a problem with Iowa rivers, lakes and streams.

Take, for example:

  • State legislators failed to pass any water quality legislation to protect the public health of Iowa citizens last session despite saying that it was a top priority.
  • Recent reports indicate that, in the past seven years, a whopping 750,000 conservation acres in Iowa have been ripped up and put back into production—to the detriment of water quality efforts and costing Iowa taxpayers $760 million in environmental benefits.Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey asserts that enrolling a paltry 3% of Iowa farmers in a cover crop program indicates “exciting momentum” for the voluntary-only Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
  • Iowa Partnership for Clean Water (a front for Iowa Farm Bureau) claims population growth is the major driver for expansion of Des Moines Water Works’ Nitrate Removal facility.

Water experts know, however, nitrate levels in Iowa’s waterways regularly exceed the public health threshold. Despite building the world’s largest Nitrate Removal Facility in 1992, adding off-river storage, treatment ponds and two additional water treatment plants, the costs and difficulty to remove nitrate from source water continue to escalate.  Rising nitrate concentrations in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers now require Des Moines Water Works to plan for several nitrate management projects in order to comply with the drinking water standard. The first project is the design then construction of an expanded Nitrate Removal Facility that will double treatment capacity from 10 million gallons per day (mgd) to 20 mgd.

Think Downstream – It’s time to confront the very real issues facing Iowa’s polluted waterways.

  • The responsibility for cleaning up agricultural water pollution from tile outlets has been placed squarely on the shoulders of our state legislature. Environmental impacts must be considered.
  • A plan must be formulated for the Nutrient Reduction Strategy that includes a timeline, benchmarks and water quality metrics to assess progress. Start with the Raccoon and Des Moines River Watersheds.
  • Establish a sustainable, adequate funding source that incorporates state, federal and private money and methodically targets and solves pollution problems in the Raccoon and Des Moines River Watersheds.
  • Adopt a set of basic standards of care required on agricultural lands tailored to the landscape that include no-till, cover crops, grass waterways and setbacks from waterways – in other words, industrialized agriculture with a conscience.
Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , , Posted in Conservation, Source Water, Water Quality June 1, 2017

2017 Consumer Confidence Report

Des Moines Water Works is committed to delivering safe, affordable and abundant drinking water to our customers.  Safe drinking water is treated water that has been tested for harmful and potentially harmful substances and has met or exceeded drinking water quality standards set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Iowa.  The EPA sets drinking water standards to define the limits of contaminants considered safe for drinking water. These levels are based on studies of the health effects associated with each contaminant and include a sufficient safety margin to ensure that water meeting these standards is safe for nearly everyone to drink.

The Consumer Confidence Report is an annual water quality report that helps customers understand the quality and safety of tap water provided by Des Moines Water Works. The current Consumer Confidence Report is now available at:   If you would like a printed copy of the Consumer Confidence Report mailed to you or have any questions about your drinking water, please contact a Customer Service Representative at (515) 283-8700.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Source Water, Uncategorized, Water Quality May 29, 2017

Community Partner: Whiterock Conservancy

Water is the great equalizer that crosses all imposed boundaries. Rivers connect communities and also protect many of the remaining wildlife corridors throughout the state of Iowa. Connect with your river this Memorial Day weekend at Raccoon River Days at Whiterock Conservancy, sponsored by Des Moines Water Works.

The four-day festival kicks off on Friday, May 26. Join Whiterock staff and regional naturalist to learn more about your community and watershed, with an educational river walk, river cleanup, demonstration programs, fishing derby, concert by Bob Dorr and the Blue Band, and much more. A full listing of event details can be found at or call (712) 684-2697 for more information.

Located just over an hour northwest of Des Moines in Coon Rapids, Whiterock Conservancy was formed ten years ago to manage one of the largest land gifts in the history of Iowa generously given by the Garst family. It stewards 5,500 acres along the scenic Middle Raccoon River Valley near Coon Rapids, Iowa. The Whiterock landscape is a mix of savannas, rolling pastures, native and restored prairies, wetlands, riverside bluffs, fishing ponds, crop ground, and unique historic, geologic, and archaeological sites.

Whiterock Conservancy offers over 40 miles of trials for hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and paddlers that wind through prairie, savanna, forest and fields. With three campgrounds, rooms and cottages for rent, it’s a great outdoor adventure for all ages.

Des Moines Water Works is committed to building awareness and appreciation for source water quality and quantity, and is pleased to sponsor Whiterock Conservancy Raccoon River Days this summer.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , Posted in Conservation, Source Water