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Tuesday's Axios Des Moines stories

Linh Ta, author of Des Moines
Jul 20, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

Des Moines explores new towing rules to protect drivers

A tow warning sign outside a business off Ingersoll Ave. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

The Des Moines City Council is considering new rules that benefit drivers who are towed, but some are concerned they may burden businesses.

Driving the news: Council member Josh Mandelbaum last week suggested two new ordinances that he said offer protections for drivers who are privately towed.

  • One requires clear no parking signage by businesses where someone could possibly be towed.
  • The other allows a driver to get their car back if they see their vehicle getting towed before it's brought to the lot. They'll likely have to pay a smaller fee, but the details haven't been determined yet.
Jul 20, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

Des Moines' vehicle fleet charges toward electric future

An electric trash truck during a 2019 demonstration in Germany. Photo: Frank Rumpenhorst/picture alliance via Getty Images

Des Moines is embracing electric cars as its first choice to replace old vehicles as they're retired from the city's fleet, according to its finance director.

  • That includes plans to electrify trash trucks as technology and market availability make their purchase more feasible.

Why it matters: Des Moines has about three dozen trash trucks that accounted for almost half of the city's total diesel use (437K gallons) last year.

  • Their eventual replacements to electric or 100% biodiesel would cut CO2 emissions by an estimated 2,200 tons a year.
Jul 19, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

Grimes to become Des Moines' new sewer sister

Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority's facilities on DSM's southeast side. Photo courtesy of WRA

Grimes is decommissioning its wastewater treatment plant and plans to join the Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority (WRA) next year, the utility's director told the Des Moines City Council last week.

Why it matters: It's going to help save locals money.

Context: The WRA is a regional utility of 17 governments or sewer districts, including DSM, WDM and Ankeny.

  • It serves more than 500K people and cleans an average of 58 million gallons of wastewater each day.
  • Operation costs are shared, based on each community's outflow.

👃 Get a whiff of this: Grimes' 1970s treatment plant has nearly reached its capacity and has been emitting unpleasant smells, according to a city Q&A.

  • It's still in compliance with state requirements, but the city determined in 2018 that it was in its best interest to join the WRA for the long term.
  • An 18-month connection project is underway.

By the numbers: The WRA's annual operating budget is around $56.2 million.

  • Grimes will make up less than 4% of wastewater outflow once connected and will pay $27.4 million to the WRA over 30 years.

The bottom line: Residents probably won't see a reduction in their utility bills, but Grimes' participation sharing WRA's expenses will help reduce pressure on future rates, utility director Scott Hutchens told Axios.

💭 Our thought bubble: The WRA demonstrates the power of regional cooperation.

  • 18 metro governments have figured out that they don't each need a wastewater treatment plant.
  • Couldn't we do the same for other tasks?
Jul 19, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

How a Des Moines-based utility makes millions from our poop

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Gas created during wastewater treatment is now making a regional utility in Des Moines an estimated $5 million a year, its director said in a public presentation last week.

Why it matters: We always knew our $#!+ was worth something. Now it's finally helping us pay the bills.

How it works: Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority (WRA) recently completed a $20 million project to capture and clean the biogases produced during water treatment.

  • The gasses had previously gone to waste. (The utility burned them off with a large flare.)
  • Now, cleaned fuel is injected into a utility pipeline and sold under contract, WRA director Scott Hutchens told the DSM City Council last week.

Between the lines: The multi-year project went online late last year and generates the equivalent volume of gas used daily in 5,500 average U.S. homes.

  • The project — which benefits from a federal energy tax credit program — will pay for itself within four to six years, Hutchens told Jason.
  • It's earnings will help offset the utility's expenses and pay debt.

The big picture: "Sludge-to-energy" systems are being adopted around the world as technology advances and utilities discover they can reduce pollution and create new revenue, according to research group World Resources Institute.

  • Dubuque began selling its wastewater gas in 2018, while Sioux City launched a program last year.
  • Our metro landfill has been capturing gas created from garbage for decades. It's used to make electricity — enough to power about 5K homes.