Demand drops at Des Moines Water Works, but conservation effort remains

By: - July 2, 2021 5:12 pm

The Raccoon River, a major source of drinking water, has chronic, severe runoff pollution. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Recent rain dropped demand for water considerably, but a hot streak next week could mean more strain on Des Moines Water Works, the utility’s CEO said. 

“This coming week will be pretty telling,” Ted Corrigan said. 

A voluntary conservation program on June 14  brought demand down about 5 million gallons a day after it closed in on 90 million gallons, a level that tests the capacity of the system, Corrigan added. 

The utility pumped 89 million gallons on June 9. Two days later, with the Raccoon River running low, demand was on its way to 90 million gallons but a light rain helped ease demand to 86 million gallons.

The utility record for water pumped was 96 million gallons in 2012.

Demand dropped to 50 million gallons a day in late June after a series of rains. But by Thursday, it was back up to 73 million gallons a day.

Corrigan said Water Works will continue to ask customers to avoid lawn-watering on Monday and to follow a watering schedule while cutting lawn-watering by 25% voluntarily. 

The holiday weekend will help because many people don’t water their lawn as much then, Corrigan said. 

Corrigan said the utility still isn’t using the Des Moines River because of relatively high ammonia levels and the presence of low levels of microcystin, an algal toxin. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week advised that visitors avoid swimming in Saylorville Lake, which empties into the Des Moines River, because of rising microcystin levels. 

The other large source of water, the Raccoon River, has been running low but has not had microcystin or ammonia issues. 

Utility workers installed flashboards on the Raccoon to raise the water level at the intake recently. They remain in place.

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

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.