Now is the time for a regional water solution

May 26, 2017

by Christine Hensley, Iowa View contributor
Original Article

With litigation behind us, Iowans have a real opportunity to address water quality, infrastructure and regional governance in a meaningful way. Previously, dialogue surrounding a regional water facility had been impeded, but now it appears that many stakeholders are interested in making headway.

As regionalization discussions move forward, it’s critical to understand the driving force behind the need for infrastructure upgrades and consider solutions that benefit all players. This means understanding that population growth in the booming metro area, rather than nitrate content in source waters, is a major driver of needed upgrades to our water utility. We’re using more water; so more water is being treated. Consider this: Suburban communities are growing at such a pace that less than half of the water produced by Des Moines Water Works at this point stays in the city, with the majority flowing to the more than 20 surrounding communities DMWW serves.

According to the Census Bureau, the Des Moines metro is the fastest growing area in the Midwest. The metro is projected to grow by 50 percent by 2040, to nearly 1 million residents. Des Moines has enviable economic and demographic momentum. We cannot allow shortsightedness to prevent the region from realizing its full potential. We need to ensure that the region is putting its priorities in the right place to serve our current and future needs.

Iowa Partnership for Clean Water has worked to bring together voices from all of the metro’s communities for productive discussion on population growth and water treatment needs. We know that these communities are troubled by their lack of input on rate increases, infrastructure investment, and the overall future of the water supply as population continues to grow.

In the last year, IPCW also worked with L.D. McMullen, former CEO of Des Moines Water Works, to review and analyze data from DMWW’s infrastructure plan and found that nitrates are not the cause for infrastructure upgrades. Rather, population growth is the largest driver of infrastructure investment currently. That’s why the regionalization discussion is crucial at this juncture. And that’s why the Legislature was paying particular attention to this issue during session this year — and likely in the future.

DMWW will need to make significant infrastructure investments to prepare for the volume of water our region will soon need as it continues to grow. The current facility has had minimal updates and was originally designed to serve a much smaller population. Those updates mean increased costs. We have a window of opportunity before the next legislative session to seriously work on a regional governance model and allow all of the stakeholders to participate in the discussions and ultimate decisions regarding the infrastructure expenditures. Let’s take advantage of the discussions that occurred this past session.

Decisions need to be made about a water system that serves the booming central Iowa area to help improve water quality and ensure a sound water future for the region. We know this will be a complex process, but we also believe its in the best interest of central Iowans. I strongly believe that collaborative solutions are the correct way to ensure safe drinking water and adequate infrastructure in Iowa — and regional governance of the utility is a natural next step.

CHRISTINE HENSLEY is a Des Moines city councilwoman and member of the board of Iowa Partnership for Clean Water.

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