IPCW Reacts to DMWW¹s $15m Infrastructure Investment

May 27, 2017

This week, officials at Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) announced a $15 million investment for additional treatment infrastructure, once more threatening rate hikes that the utility claims are solely due to nitrate content in source rivers.

DMWW has contracted with CH2M, a consulting and engineering firm, to consult and execute the facility expansion. In 2016, IPCW commissioned former DMWW CEO L.D. McMullen to review the CH2M report that served as the basis for DMWW’s overall capital improvement plan. The resulting white paper concludes that increased demand due to population growth in the metropolitan area is the primary factor contributing to the need for expansion of DMWW facilities – not nitrate content in source waters.

Contrary to DMWW’s continued claims, McMullen’s findings from the CH2M report and other sources show that source water quality in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers have shown no statistically significant trend in almost 15 years. The demand for water fueled by population growth, however, is changing.

As Central Iowa communities continue to plan for their water future, it’s important to understand the factors driving the need for expansion in order to develop the most appropriate, cost-effective solutions. Additionally, when all communities in the region face rate hikes and bear the cost of unsuccessful litigation and misplaced priorities, all communities deserve to have their voices heard. This is why IPCW supports the further exploration of a regional water facility.

In recent comments to the Des Monies Register, DMWW CEO Bill Stowe mentions the potential impact to infrastructure upgrades should suburban communities should break away from the DMWW system, “If these communities move forward, the need to expand Des Moines’ nutrient removal facility could be diminished,” Stowe said. “Some (expansion) will need to be done, but we’ll pace it differently if some suburbs are taking a hard turn.” These comments speak to the great impact of population growth and overall consumer demand, rather than nitrate content, on infrastructure decisions made at DMWW.

It will always be necessary to treat river water to ensure it is safe to drink, but it stands to reason that if more water is being used, more water will need to be treated. Infrastructure improvements will need to address capacity issues first and foremost, and should be scalable, in order for the utility to treat more water, as it is needed. IPCW urges water stakeholders in the region to consider these factors as DMWW moves forward in implementing infrastructure improvements.

“It is clear that population growth, and resulting demand, is the major driver of infrastructure costs for DMWW,” said Don Kass, Iowa Partnership for Clean Water board member. “It is my hope that all contributing factors are taken into account moving forward, rather than blame being placed solely on Iowa farmers upstream for double-digit rate increases that cover a much wider scope. Case in point, it was noted during the Iowa Supreme Court case that the resulting cost to a typical DMWW customer to run the nitrate removal equipment is about one cent per day. DMWW did not dispute those costs. That certainly puts things in perspective.”

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