Archive for March, 2011

March 30, 2011

A Breakdown of Capital Improvements

Water Utilities are in a high infrastructure intensive industry.  Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) maintains over 1,360 miles of buried water mains which have 9,800 valves and 8,900 fire hydrants.  We have over 80,000 water meters and automated reading devices serving our customers.  We soon will be adding a third water treatment plant that adds capacity and reliability in water delivery to our customers.  Each of these treatment plants have multiple mechanical, electrical, and controls systems that require a high degree of maintenance to insure these systems work at peak efficiency to allow us to produce the highest level of quality water at the least possible cost. 

The Board of Water Works Trustees have recognized the utility can most cost effectively maintain our infrastructure assets by generating the necessary capital through water rate revenue.  This allows us to pay for the maintenance and replacements on “pay as you go basis.”  The 2011 utility budget included an upcoming rate increase will allow a limited operating budget growth to 4.4% which will produce an estimated $12.8 million for new capital improvement projects after debt service obligations are met.  We will be investing $4.6 million in building and facility maintenance, $5.5 million in the water main distribution system, and $1.4 million in treatment plant improvements as the major areas of focus for 2011.

We will continue to maintain the infrastructure to maximize its life so we can continue to deliver Water You Can Trust for Life.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in About Us, Board of Trustees, Infrastructure, Rates March 28, 2011

Wellness @ Work

DMWW recently had the opportunity to attend the Physical Activity Training Summit sponsored by the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) Now why would we want to go to training about physical activity?  Consider this quote from Dr. David Hunnicut, President of WELCOA. “Physical Activity is medicine.  If sold as a pill, it would be the single-most effective medicine available.  It’s as close to a silver bullet as anything we have.” He went on to say that by walking 30 to 45 minutes on most days, we can delay the onset of disability 10 – 12 years. 

According to the American Heart Association, we gain two hours of life expectancy for every one hour of vigorous exercise, like brisk walking  Why wouldn’t we jump on this bandwagon?  For many, it is lack of time or inconvenience.  As an employer, DMWW is committed to the health of its workforce and we want to make it easy.  DMWW’s employee health team encourages fellow employees to engage in physical activity, inlcluding the following:

  1. Loaner bikes:  hop on one of the loaner bikes to travel to a meeting in another building or take a ride in Water Works Park during lunch break.
  2. Wellness Walks:  walk 500,000 steps in 75 days and win prizes and a healthy lunch in an incentive contest.
  3. Garden work-out:  keep moving by planting and caring for flowers and veggies in the DMWW employee garden plot.  Those veggies give healthy eating a boost too!
  4. 100 hour challenge:  exercise for 100 hours and earn points in an incentive contest.
  5. Community events:  participate in five community sponsored races, runs, or walks – like the upcoming Grand Blue Mile:  and receive a DMWW high-quality moisture-wicking technical logo shirt. 

We know it takes only 30 seconds of exercise before the health benefits begin.  Small adjustments can lead to big changes.  We just need to get moving! What are your ideas for keeping employees physically active?   Do you need motiviation to start?  It’s National Start! Walking Day on April 6, 2011!  For a free toolkit, go to:

Posted by: Dorenda Walters No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , Posted in About Us, Employees March 25, 2011

Remedies for Common Household Problems

Seeing Pink in Your Sink

Ever noticed that pinkish hue that begins to appear after a few days around the shower, tub, or toilet bowl basin? That pink residue you see is caused by the bacterium Serratia marcesens. This is an extremely common organism found in soil, food, animals, air … almost anywhere! It thrives on moist surfaces and is commonly seen in showers, toilets, pet dishes, sinks, or any other damp surface. The bacteria need almost nothing to survive. They produce a characteristic pink pigment that is very visible to the human eye; however, some people report the color to be red or orange. The bacteria get to these surfaces via the air. What you see is especially common in dusty environments, where the bacteria can travel attached to dust particles.

These organisms cannot survive in chlorinated water. So, if your water is treated in some way that removes chlorine, you are more apt to see this phenomenon. Or, as is the case of a pet dish or a shower stall, the chlorine dissipates over time and the bacteria are able to colonize the surface. This species does not cause  water-borne disease and until recently was thought to be completely harmless. Recent studies have shown, however, that it can cause bladder and wound infections and pneumonia in very few people.

Best bet: wipe these damp surfaces regularly with a bleach or anti-bacterial cleaner.

Dishwasher Film

From time to time, your dishes may not come out of the dishwasher as clean as you like. They may have that annoying filmy look. What’s the problem? Two factors contribute: improper amounts of detergent, and insufficient water temperature. A good rule of thumb is to use one teaspoon of detergent for every grain of hardness in the water. For DMWW water, that means using seven teaspoons in the summer, eight in the winter. If the temperature setting on your water heater is too low, your dishes may not rinse well. Dishwashers work best with a water temperature of 140ºF. Also, let your kitchen sink run hot just before starting the dishwater cycle. If this still doesn’t help, try putting a ¼ cup of vinegar into the  dishwasher just as the rinse cycle starts.

 Is it Something in the Water?

Q:  No matter how often I wash my towels or what detergent I use, they retain a musty odor.  Is it something in the water?  What can I do to get them fresh-smelling?

A:  This is a very common observation that is almost never caused by the water.  Ironically, all that washing could be part of the problem, especially if you’re using an excessive amount of detergent.  If the detergent isn’t completely rinsed out of the towels, mold will grow on the residue, causing a musty odor. Cutting back on detergent might solve the problem, especially if during the rinse cycle you add a half-cup of white vinegar or baking soda to neutralize the odor.    It’s more likely, however, that your washing machine itself is the culprit.  Or rather, the smelly fungus that can grow inside the washer, especially on the rubber or plastic seals, gaskets and hoses.

Because towels are thicker and more absorbent than most items that go through the wash, they trap more fungus — and therefore the musty odor is more noticeable.

The easiest way to solve this problem is to do a “maintenance wash” with no clothes or detergent, using hot water.  Using a small dose of bleach in your maintenance wash should help.  Some people also find using a small amount of lemon juice or ammonia instead of bleach solves the problem.  One maintenance wash per month is a good idea if this is a chronic problem.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 1 Comment
Labels: , , , , Posted in Customer Service, Water Quality March 23, 2011

Water Rate Increase Effective April 1

Last October, the Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees approved water rate increases that will be effective on water bills beginning April 1.  Water availability charges for most residential customers will increase $1 per month.  Volume charges for water will increase $0.27 for residential customers in the City of Des Moines.  Total water charges for a typical four-person household will increase approximately $3.00 per month.  On average, a two-person household will see a total increase of approximately $2.00 per month.

For more information on the rate increase, please refer to an October 2010 blog article.

If you have any questions regarding your bill, please contact a Customer Service Representative at (515) 283-8700.

Posted by: Peggy Freese No Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in Board of Trustees, Rates March 21, 2011

Who Owns What?

Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) provides water to its customers and maintains the water mains required to deliver water to homes and businesses.  DMWW also owns the water meter used to measure consumption.

Property owners are responsible for the connection (tap) to the water main and the piping (service line) that carries water from the main to the meter.  The property owner is also responsible for protecting and providing access to the water meter.

When a problem occurs, DMWW staff will assist the property owner in determining the cause of the problem and the appropriate course of action.

Stop Boxes

What is a stop box?  The stop box houses the valve used to turn the water service on and off to a property.  It is usually located in the public right of way.  DMWW requires that the stop box be operable at all times.

Who owns the stop box?  The property owner owns the stop box and is responsible for its repair.

How does the stop box operate?  To operate the stop box, a long key is placed inside the housing and lowered onto the valve to turn the water service on or off.  Sometimes, due to age or damage, the stop box does not operate, requiring repair.

Why is the stop box operated?  DMWW will operate the stop box:

  • To terminate service at the owner’s request when a property is sold.
  • To cut water service for internal plumbing repairs.
  • At a rental property to discontinue water service when the tenant is moving.
  • When a customer fails to make timely payment on their water bill.


What are the reasons for repair?

  • When the stop box is too high or too low.  The top of the stop box should be level with the ground.
  • If the stop box is located under concrete or asphalt, a repair must be made so that the stop box is accessible.
  • If the housing for the stop box becomes bent and the key cannot be lowered into the housing.
  • If the rod is loose in the stop box and does not connect to the valve.
  • When the valve does not operate.

Who will make the repairs?  DMWW is not licensed to make plumbing repairs and we recommend that you contract the services of a licensed plumber.  If you do not make repair arrangements, DMWW will contract the services of a plumber and bill the charges to your account.

How much will it cost for repairs?  Stop box repairs range in cost, depending on several factors, such as which part of the box needs repaired, whether the box is in concrete, etc.  Repairs can range in cost between $600 and $2,000. While boxes can become inoperable over time for many reasons, the best way to protect your box is to prevent it from unnecessary operation by keeping your account current.

Other Questions

What if my service line starts to leak?  Please notify DMWW at (515) 283-8700 if you notice water leaking and our representative will assist in determining the location of the leak.  Sometimes it is difficult to determine the source of the leaking water as it follows the path of least resistance and does not always come to the surface right near the leak.  Once located, the property owner will be notified to contact a licensed plumber to make repairs to the leaking service line.

What if my service line starts to leak and water is not coming to the surface of the ground?  During our routine leak survey of the distribution system, using electronic leak detection equipment, leaks are sometimes located that don’t come to the surface.  Our leak detection personnel will attempt to determine the source of leaking water and inform you of its general location.

Who is responsible for the water meter?  The water meter is usually located in the basement or in a meter pit outside the building.  The property owner is responsible for protecting the meter from freezing temperatures and providing access to the meter and meter reading equipment.  The water meter is owned by DMWW.

If you need additional assistance, please call (515) 283-8771.

Posted by: Ted Corrigan No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , Posted in Customer Service, Customers March 18, 2011

Just the Facts – E. Coli Q&A

Q: What is E. coli?

E. coli is a very common bacterium that lives in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Most E. coli strains are harmless and often beneficial, but there are a few strains of E. coli that are harmful to humans when ingested. The most common of these harmful strains is E. coli O157: H7.

Q: Where does E. coli 0157:H7 come from?

Its source is usually inadequately cooked processed meats, such as hamburger. It is very rare for this organism to cause trouble in drinking water. It usually enters the source water through human or animal waste.

Q. Is E. coli in my drinking water?

No. Des Moines Water Works’ state-of-the-art laboratory monitors your drinking water at the plant to ensure that no harmful bacteria are present. In addition, Des Moines Water Works collects 150 samples of water per month from Des Moines’ distribution system to comply with the United States Environmental

Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. An employee travels to various taps throughout the area and collects samples to determine chlorine levels and collects samples for bacteria analysis. The surrounding suburbs and cities that use Des Moines Water Works water also collect samples from their systems for testing. This means that over 300 samples per month are collected to ensure that you are receiving safe, clean drinking water. E. coli has never been found in Des Moines Water Works’ drinking water.

Q: How does Des Moines Water Works remove E. coli from the source water?

Des Moines Water Works uses several steps to remove E. coli from the water. Lime softening, sand filtration, and chlorination are used in combination to effectively treat our water, ensuring that you receive the highest quality, safe drinking water.

Q: What are the health effects of E. coli 0157:H7?

E.coli O157: H7 grows inside the human intestines causing diarrhea and vomiting. In some individuals, the toxin that it produces may be absorbed by the blood stream. This toxin then travels to the kidneys where it causes life-threatening damage.

For additional information, call the SAFE DRINKING WATER HOTLINE: 1-800-426-4791.

Want more Just the Facts? Visit:

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Health, Water Quality, Water Treatment March 15, 2011

The Role of Emergency Power Generation Systems in Water Utility Operations

Water treatment plants and several critical remote pumping and storage facilities are electrically-intense operations.  Water utilities are generally considered large customers to the electric utility.  A failure to keep treatment plants and critical pumping stations in operation at all times could lead to water quality problems within the water distribution system as a depressurized water distribution system is susceptible to intrusion from groundwater or other contaminants.  To ensure that these sites have electrical power at all times, emergency power generation systems have been made a part of these facilities. 

In the event of a power outage, these systems automatically start and apply electrical power to the facility to restore operations.  When stable electric power from the electric utility returns, the source of electric power for the facility is transferred from the emergency power generation system back to the electric utility.  The emergency power generation systems are capable of running for just a few minutes to several weeks if necessary.  Historically, power outages are rare and are generally short in duration (less than a few hours).

Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) like many other water utilities, also uses the same emergency power generation systems to participate in curtailment programs offered by Mid-American Energy Company.  Mid-American Energy allows their larger electrical customers to self-generate electricity on days when electrical usage is peaking.  This allows Mid-American Energy to better manage their peak demands.  In exchange for the self-generation effort, Mid-American Energy compensates DMWW approximately $180,000 per year to participate.  The curtailment season is limited to sixteen events, with each no longer than six hours in length. 

Integration of emergency power generation systems into critical facilities is clearly in the best interest of the customer.  Participation in the curtailment program from Mid-American Energy also provides an opportunity to offset operating expenses associated with the operation and maintenance of the emergency power generation systems.

Posted by: Mike McCurnin No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in About Us, Environment, Value of Water, Water Quality, Water Treatment March 14, 2011

Spring Events Bloomin’ at Des Moines Botanical Center

Colors Alive: “Planting a Rainbow”
March-April  ·  9:00 am-5:00 pm
April showers bring colorful flowers to the Botanical Center.  Tiptoe through tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and a variety of other blooming plants in a rainbow of color. Learn about rain gardens and water conservation as you stroll through the Dome. Designed by horticulturist, Angie Buchanan.  Regular admission.

Spring Break Activities: “Planting a Rainbow”
March 15-17 · 10:00 am-3:00 pm
Fun for the kids during spring break! Join your friends at the Des Moines Botanical Center for “Planting a Rainbow.” Crafts, games, prizes and activities galore! Admission: $1.00 Children (ages 1-3), $3.00 Children (ages 4 -17), $5.00 Adults, $4.00 Seniors, Friends of the Des Moines Botanical Center are Free. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Toddler Time
March 29, April 26 & May 31 · 10:00 am
Enjoy a story with a garden theme, music and movement. No pre-registration required. Children 1-3 are $1.00, regular admission rates apply for other children and adults.

Easter Bunny Visit & Other Spring Activities
April 16 ·  10:00 am-2:00 pm
Hop into the Des Moines Botanical & Environmental Center to visit the Easter Bunny – bring your own camera.  The Iowa Egg Council will also be having an egg-ceptional cookout throughout the day, with lots of great samples for everyone.  Regular admission.

Free Admission on Earth Day
April 22  ·  9:00 am-5:00 pm
Everyone can enjoy free admission to the Des Moines Botanical & Environmental Center on Earth Day – Friday, April 22!

Iowa Bonsai Association Spring Show
April 30-May 1  ·  9:00 am-5:00 pm
Iowa Bonsai Association Spring Show in the Gardener’s Show House of the Botanical Center. Regular admission.

Earth Kind Rose Sale
May 7-8
Saturday, May 7, 8:00 am-4:30 pm and Sunday, May 8, 12:30 pm-4:30 pm in the potting shed by the greenhouses at the south end of the Botanical Center. All the roses for sale are considered Earth Kind, owing to the fact that they need little or no spraying or other maintenance yet produce an abundance of flowers over a long season. $20.00 each, all sales final.

Polk County Master Gardeners Annual Sale
May 7-8
Annuals, Perennials, Coleus, Tomatoes, Peppers and Herbs! Saturday, May 7, 8:30 am-4:30 pm and Sunday, May 8, 10:00 am-4:30 pm.  Cash or check only.  Proceeds support the Master Gardeners’ Demonstration, Discovery & Enabling Gardens in the Des Moines area.

Annual Mother’s Day Brunch
May 8  ·  9:00 am-5:00 pm
Instead of buying your mom roses on Mother’s Day, bring her to the Botanical Center where she can enjoy an entire dome full of beautiful flowers.  Free admission to the Botanical Center for all mothers!

Father’s Day
June 19  ·  9:00 am-5:00 pm
Free admission to the Botanical Center for all fathers!

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , Posted in Botanical Center March 11, 2011

Just the Facts – Pesticides Q&A

Q: What are pesticides?

Pesticides are any substances or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest. Pests can be insects, mice and other animals, unwanted plants (weeds), fungi, or microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. The term pesticide usually refers to insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. A pesticide is also any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant.

Q: Where does the contaminant come from?

From the watershed where pesticides are applied, both in urban and agricultural environments.

Q. Have pesticides been found in my drinking water?

The only regulated pesticide that has been found in your drinking water is Atrazine, which has an EPA-mandated maximum level of three (3) parts per billion (ppb). DMWW’s lab has never found pesticide levels in excess of three (3) ppb in your drinking water, even in periods of increased agricultural activity.

Q. How does Des Moines Water Works test for pesticides?

DMWW uses gas chromotography and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to scan for pesticides in the water. We have been testing for pesticides since 1987.

Q: How does Des Moines Water Works treat for pesticides?

Powdered activated carbon, which is added during the treatment process, does absorb some pesticides, including atrazine, before settling out of the water. However, the best way to prevent pesticides from reaching the finished drinking water is through watershed protection and good land management practices which reduce the amount reaching the source water.

Q: What are the health effects?

Atrazine can cause cardiovascular problems and reproductive difficulties.

For more information, call Des Moines Water Works at (515) 283-8700 or visit

Want more Just the Facts? Visit:

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Health, Water Quality March 9, 2011

Planning Your Spring Garden

This is the perfect time to start planning your spring and summer garden, however it is a little early to start the hands-on outdoor work.  Starting early on your plans is a great idea. Planning where and what plants you want to use can take weeks.  Picking your plants early from a vast array of garden catalogs is essential in getting the plants you want. The earlier you order, the better chance you will have to get them. Most of the time, new introduction and favorite plants are sold out well before the planting season begins.

Many seeds take between two to three months to flower. Starting seeds in your home under a grow light is a great way to get a jump on your spring gardening. It allows you to have plants that are larger and perhaps all ready blooming in your garden. Using cool season plants such as pansies, chard, kale, and lettuce will allow you to plant a little earlier. These plants can take a light, late season frost and still be good growers.

Posted by: Todd Monson No Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in Botanical Center, Des Moines Botanical Center