Feb 10, 2021

Axios Des Moines

Welcome to Wednesday, Des Moines.

☎️ A pandemic "Tele-Town Hall": IDPH director Kelly Garcia will discuss the state’s COVID-19 response and vaccine distribution on Friday at 10am.

  • ⁉️ AARP members will ask the questions, but everyone can listen. Call 877-229-8493, code 14257

📝 We just launched something new at Axios this week. It'll help you write less, but say a whole lot more. Check it out.

Today's Smart Brevitycount is 893 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: A mystery in DSM water

An area of Fourmile Creek in northern Polk County is part of an ongoing water monitoring program. Photo courtesy of Polk County Water Quality Monitoring Program

Elevated levels of chloride have been consistently documented in at least 11 metro area stream test sites, according to a new report from the Polk County Conservation Board.

Why it matters: Excessive amounts of the naturally occurring element can be toxic to some aquatic life and could make stream water, which feeds into DSM drinking water sources, taste salty.

  • A planned $117 million water trails project that runs through downtown Des Moines is adding to the urgency and interest in addressing the issue.
  • While chloride is not usually harmful to human health, it could negatively impact overarching conservation and recreational goals by diminishing the natural habitat that attracts trail users.

Details: The problem sites are primarily on the city's south side and in West Des Moines, Polk County Conservation Board's monitoring program shows.

  • Most of the streams drain into the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers — where we get our drinking water. But the rivers are well diluted and have far lower levels of chloride.

By the numbers: Areas with a five-year average of greater than 100 milligrams per liter are considered to have elevated levels in the Polk County review.

  • Public drinking water standards allow for up to 2 ½ times that amount, which no site average exceeded.
  • Yes, but: The EPA recommends sodium levels not exceed 30-60mg per liter to avoid any hint of salty water.

What's happening: Conservationists don’t yet know what’s behind the spikes, Polk County Conservation director Rich Leopold told Axios. Their working theories:

  • It’s not likely from de-icing chemicals or salt runoff. The spikes are relatively consistent, even in warmer months when roads go untreated.
  • Sewer overflow or breaks in pipes carrying wastewater could be to blame. Some of Des Moines’ underground infrastructure is more than 100 years old.

What's next: Leopold tells us that scientists and conservationists will spend the next few months analyzing the data to see whether it can help pinpoint the reason for the spikes.

2. 🕵️‍♀️ Behind the scenes of a pharmacy

A customer and pharmacist at Sumpter Pharmacy in Adel. Photo courtesy of Sumpter Pharmacy

Sumpter Pharmacy in Adel is fielding 500 additional daily calls, Facebook messages and emails from Dallas County residents searching for COVID-19 vaccine appointments, owner Leslie Herron told Linh.

Why it matters: Time is precious, especially now that IDPH announced counties must use 80% of their vaccine allocations to become eligible for next week's allocation, KCRG reported.

  • But scheduling vaccines is more complicated than it seems, Herron said, especially since supply is so low.
  • Herron said just fielding calls nearly requires a full-time staffer.

The state of play: Pharmacies like Sumpter typically use the Moderna vaccine because of its easier storage capabilities.

  • One vial contains 10 doses, meaning 10 appointments.
  • But a vial expires six hours after opening — and Herron said that no-shows force her to find people to ensure her supply is used up.

A tip: Sign up and check the social media accounts for surrounding local pharmacies, according to Herron.

  • She got a small shipment of vaccines and immediately notified people via Facebook.
  • "The minute we get it, we want to give it, but if people refrain from making the personal phone call, that would really help all the pharmacies," Herron said.
3. Catch up quick

Photo: Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

  • Allegiant Air announced yesterday it was adding nonstop flights from DSM to Houston, San Diego and Portland.
  • Indira Sheumaker, a local BLM activist, announced she is running for DSM City Council in Ward 1 — a seat currently filled by incumbent Bill Gray.
  • Des Moines schools could be excluded from a Republican-backed $30 million fund for districts that held in-person classes. (Des Moines Register)(subscription)
  • Microsoft will create a vaccination appointment system for Iowa. (AP)
  • Iowa is predicted to be a #3 seed in Andy Katz’s latest March Madness prediction. Drake is #10.
4. The challenge ahead for hotels
Data: STR; Chart: Axios Visuals

Despite a devastating dip in business due to the pandemic, Des Moines hotels are starting to see small gains from events like the Feb. 2-4 Iowa Ag Expo and the State Wrestling Championships set to take place later this month.

  • The big picture: Bouncing back to pre-pandemic occupancy rides on the success of the vaccine rollout, Greg Edwards, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau, told Jason.

The state of play: About half of the metro area’s 21,000 tourism and service industry jobs have been at least temporarily lost during the pandemic, Edwards said.

  • While no hotels have yet closed, Edwards thinks some of the smaller ones could be in trouble if the pandemic recovery stalls.
  • "A hotel downtown and on a normal day ... would probably have about 200 employees from housekeeping to restaurant banquet people, but my guess today is they might have 30 in there," he added.
5. About those billboards ...

Photo courtesy of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers

An atheist group launched a campaign this week using nine metro billboards to oppose what it says is a "Christian dominionist assault on our capital."

What's happening: Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers opposes multiple bills, including Gov. Kim Reynolds' "school choice" proposal, which multiple districts also oppose.

  • Jason Benell, a spokesperson for the group, told Axios that the idea is "a voucher scheme designed to funnel tax dollars out of budget-starved public education into private, mostly religious schools."
6. Three businesses score big for inclusivity

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation's 2021 Corporate Equality Index identified three Iowa-based companies with perfect scores.

  • Companies are rated on non-discrimination policies, equitable benefits for LGBTQ workers and their families, support for an inclusive culture, and corporate social responsibility.

💯 At the top of the list: Principal Financial Group, Wellmark and Transamerica.

Worthy of your time: Our friends at Axios Charlotte will host a Smart Take virtual event tomorrow at 11:30am CT. Guests include North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Hornets exec Fred Whitfield.

  • It's a great way to learn how other cities are trying to recover from the pandemic. Register here.

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