It’s been an eventful spring at the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW). First, a judge dismissed the DMWW’s signature lawsuit against northwest Iowa drainage districts over nitrates in the Raccoon River. Then state lawmakers seriously debated, but did not pass, measures that would have completely dismantled the DMWW in favor of a regional water system.
After all of that, you might think that DMWW officials would be inclined to collaborate with agriculture. Perhaps, these events would provide a good inflection point to follow the example of Cedar Rapids, Storm Lake and other communities working with farmers to take on the challenge of improving water quality.
But don’t hold your breath.
Bill Stowe, the water supplier’s CEO, along with his staff and directors, seem content to continue to blame agriculture at every possible chance. In media interviews, they disparage farmers and the Iowa Water Quality Initiative and urge more regulation.
Shifting into high gear
The DMWW blame game shifted into high gear last week as the DMWW launched plans to upgrade its 26-year-old nitrate removal plant, telling customers to expect rate hikes to fund it. The rate hikes, they said, are really the fault of farmers because the water supplier has no choice but to run the nitrate removal facility.
They don’t mention their own study has shown that increased water demand from a growing metro area is a key reason for a new nitrate treatment plant or the cost of fixing the water supplier’s crumbling infrastructure.
DMWW officials also seem reticent to talk about some of the remarks of the Iowa Supreme Court when it made the initial ruling in the lawsuit. First, the Supreme Court said the cost to DMWW customers to run the nitrate facility, according to the defendants, is about one cent per day added to their water bills. It’s an estimate that the DMWW doesn’t challenge.
The court went on to say that "the least-cost avoider for removing nitrates from drinking water may well be the DMWW, which already bears the statutory obligation to provide safe water for its customers under the Safe Drinking Water Act and its amendments."
Yet to DMWW officials, these remarks don’t seem to hold much sway.
Blaming farmers must just be easier than facing facts.