News Feature | January 20, 2016

Des Moines Pours $1.5 Million Into Nitrate Removal

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Des Moines Water Works paid a hefty tab for denitrification last year.

The utility said it shelled out $1.5 million to remove nitrates from the water supply in 2015, according to KCCI. It’s one more sign of the way farm run-off is stressing the water system in Iowa.

“The special facility used to remove it from the water operated for a record 177 days last year. The previous record was 106 days set in 1999,” KCCI reported. “Water Works officials said the costs and risks of meeting drinking water requirements for nitrate are increasingly high as Iowa's surface waters demonstrate dangers levels of pollutants. Water Works serves about 500,000 customers.”

The utility said in a statement: “The increase in river nitrate levels is attributable to upstream agricultural land uses, with the largest contribution made by application of fertilizer to row crops, intensified by unregulated discharge of nitrate into the rivers through artificial subsurface drainage systems.”

Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager, Des Moines Water Works, weighed in.

“Iowa’s political leadership, with influence from industrial agriculture and commodity groups, continue to deny Iowa’s water quality crisis,” he said in a statement. “Defending the status quo, avoiding regulation of any form, and offering the illusion of progress and collaboration, places the public health of our water consumers at the mercy of upstream agriculture and continues to cost our customers millions of dollars.”

The utility anticipates the need to upgrade its infrastructure to contend with the problem. It plans to spend $80 million for new treatment equipment, including denitrification technology.

The utility is also trying to hold upstream polluters accountable.

“Des Moines Water Works filed suit in March, claiming the boards of supervisors of Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun counties, serving as trustees of the drainage districts within their borders, are violating the federal Clean Water Act by not doing enough to reduce the amount of nitrates in water that runs into the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers and their tributaries, the primary source of water for Des Moines,” the Sioux City Journal reported.

For similar stories, visit Water Online’s Nutrient Removal Solutions Center.