Des Moines Water Works plant operators to be sequestered in campers

Des Moines Water Works' deployed trailers for plant operators, since removed, during the beginning of the pandemic. The utility is choosing a new CEO. (Photo courtesy of Des Moines Water Works)

Des Moines Water Works plant operators are moving into about a dozen rented campers spread among three treatment plants, where they will be sequestered on a week-to-week basis during the COVID-19 outbreak, a utility spokeswoman said. 

Public affairs manager Laura Sarcone said 10 campers are in place along Fleur Drive at the main treatment plant for a utility that serves about half-million people. Overall, 20 campers will be spread among the Fleur plant and satellite plants in the Saylorville area and at Maffitt Reservoir southwest of Des Moines.

Two operators will live in each camper, and will leave to perform their normal duties at the plants. They won’t leave the property. The idea is the keep them from being exposed to the virus, Sarcone said.

Water works has stockpiled chemicals for the treatment plant. The utility contracted with a vendor to bring in enough food and supplies to cover what could be a stay of weeks or months.

The water-treatment process kills viruses, including the coronavirus, so the water is safe and will continue to flow into taps, Sarcone added.

The move is part of response plan developed over the past month and a half to keep the water works staff safe and healthy, Sarcone said. Many office workers will start working at home Monday, but how many of the 210 employees will do that was under review Thursday.

The living situation will be reviewed weekly as the outbreak changes.

Water Works has closed its offices to the public, and is doing business online and by phone and mail. Water Works Park remains open. 

The scheduled water works board meeting at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday is likely to shift to Zoom or a conference call, but officials are working out the required public access, Sarcone said. Details will be announced later.

Perry Beeman
Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.