Dec 22, 2021 - News

Des Moines Water Works takes step toward regionalizing water services

Illustration of two faucets, one dry and one with hundred dollar bills coming out of it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The creation of a regional water utility in the Des Moines area moved closer to becoming a reality this week.

Driving the news: The Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) board approved a resolution Tuesday to participate "as a founding agency" of the plan for the proposed Central Iowa Water Works.

Why it matters: Money and power.

  • A regional approach can avoid unnecessary duplications, save metro communities millions of dollars and more wisely use water resources, Mayor Frank Cownie told Axios.

Yes, but: Some believe the plan was drafted without adequate public input and worry it has the potential to increase local water rates.

  • Control over some of the metro's most critical public infrastructure might no longer be with Des Moines, former DMWW chairperson Dave Carlson told us yesterday.

State of play: DMWW provides water services to much of Polk County, including several cities with their own water treatment plants that can't keep up with demand.

  • Des Moines' mayor appoints DMWW's five-person board.

The big picture: The metro is growing and many cities have met increasing water needs by relying more on DMWW.

  • Some suburbs, such as West Des Moines, have considered building new systems.
  • But regional utility discussions have been ongoing for years as a way to share costs and give suburbs more representation on boards that make water decisions.

Flashback: A confidential draft of a plan to create the Central Iowa Water Works was made public by former state Sen. Jack Hatch in his unsuccessful run against Cownie in 2019.

The intrigue: Carlson acknowledged to Axios Tuesday that he was the one to leak the document to Hatch.

  • Cownie removed Carlson from the DMWW board where he had served for 16 years and appointed former Des Moines Register reporter Joel Aschbrenner shortly after the 2019 election.

What they're saying: Hatch and Carlson said they're not opposed to regionalization, but stand by their calls for more transparency.

The other side: DMWW director Ted Corrigan told Axios public meeting access and documents about the concept have been available for years on the utility's website.

What's next: The board's decision this week allows for detailed financial modeling and further public review of the concept.

  • A final board decision about whether to join a regional plan is six to nine months out, Corrigan said.
  • Other metro governments will consider similar non-binding resolutions in coming weeks, including Urbandale on Jan. 12 and West Des Moines on Jan. 26.
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