News Feature | March 14, 2017

Tensions Rise As Bill Threatens To Dismantle Des Moines Water Works Board

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

Iowa

Residents in Des Moines, IA, took issue with their water utilities at a public hearing at the capitol on March 6. The tension arose over a bill that would take apart the Des Moines Water Works board.

Appropriately called House File 484, the bill was introduced by Iowa Rep. Jarad Klein. Opposers of the bill, according to Iowa Public Radio, “say it is about stopping a controversial lawsuit that targets large-scale agriculture.”

If the bill is supported and passed, Des Moines would be the only metro utility that would have their board broken up.

“Taking assets of a public water utility is the exact kind of state government meddling that created the public health water crisis in Flint, Michigan,” Leslie Gearhart, who is against the bill and chair of the Des Moines Water Works Board, told Iowa Public Radio.

According to an article written by the Associated Press (AP) that appeared in the Omaha World Herald, Republican lawmakers said that “the change is meant to allow the cities in the area more direct control of their own water.”

Those who support the Des Moines Water Works have said that “the move is a bold show of power by farm interests in a Legislature where conservatives now hold sway.”

“This is just a smoke screen,” Bill Stowe, Des Moines CEO, said. “It’s based on protecting industrial agriculture.”

Councilwoman Christine Hensley said that “the new system could allow better coordination among cities.”

Des Moines City Manager Scott Sanders told Iowa Public Radio that the bill gives opportunity to update an outdated system.

“Let me assure you that as a regional water utility consisting of local elected officials,” Sanders said, “they will absolutely remain committed to providing clean, safe drinking water for everyone.”

Radio Iowa reported that some supporters at the hearing suggested that “the governance change might lower water costs.”

“It empowers the local governments to craft the most efficient structure possible for delivering the necessary service of water for the residents in this area,” Peter Sand told Radio Iowa. “Once empowered, I think local cities will do just that, they will create an organization that is centered on irrigation and not litigation.”

Image credit: "Welcome To Iowa, Fort Madison, Iowa, August 2004" Ken Lund © 2004 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/