Des Moines Water Works uses 16 pools with sand and gravel to filter its drinking water. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
The Des Moines Water Works board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to negotiate an agreement with other metro water utilities to collectively govern drinking water production in the area.
The trustees voted 4-0 to develop a plan to establish Central Iowa Water Works, in which participating utilities will jointly own the facilities that draw water from rivers and wells and treat it for consumption. Trustee Joel Aschbrenner was absent from the meeting.
The vote doesn’t commit Water Works to joining the regional authority, but “it waves a flag in the air and says, ‘Pay attention people. We’re going to start talking about regionalization in earnest,’” said Graham Gillette, chairperson of the board.
Similar votes about developing an agreement are expected next month by the trustees of West Des Moines Water Works and the Urbandale Water Utility.
West Des Moines Water Works postponed its vote on the matter this month after some residents complained that the process had been rushed and didn’t allow sufficient public input. There were similar concerns in Des Moines.
“I just don’t think it feels right that no formal meetings or public input has been offered until now,” said Cherie Mortice, a Des Moines resident.
She asked that the vote be delayed until after the holiday season. The trustees said there will be ample opportunities for public input in the coming months.
Talks of creating a regional water authority have simmered for decades and have gained steam recently as Des Moines and West Des Moines look to expand their production capacities to meet future needs. Both utilities have independently considered expansions that would cost in excess of $100 million.
Gillette said a regional authority would ensure equitable water production and shared risks from drought, environmental pollution and investments.
“It’s not fair that any one community be burdened with potential risks down the road,” he said.
The water utilities estimate it will take at least six months to forge an agreement and Central Iowa Water Works might emerge in 2023.
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