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House Bill Would Dissolve Des Moines Water Works, Establish Regional Water Utility

DES MOINES, Iowa -- A bill in the House of Representatives would change the way hundreds of thousands of Iowans get their water.

The bill would dissolve the Des Moines Water Works Board of Directors, and the boards of other suburban water utilities.

Des Moines Water Works sells 60% of its water to other municipalities, and those communities do not have a say in pricing.

By 2020 it would create a regional utility with representation from Des Moines and its large suburbs like Urbandale. However, because representation on the regional board takes population and water assets into account, Urbandale's water utility says a seat at the proverbial table would be pointless.

“It doesn’t take very long to take those calculations and put them into the population of Des Moines Water Works vs. the population of Urbandale and West Des Moines and our asset base, and we have a minority on that seat, which is virtually no vote” said Dale Acheson, General Manager of Urbandale’s water utility.

The bill would also have all communities pool their water resources together, meaning a rate payer in West Des Moines could end up paying for a water main break downtown.

"It's telling Des Moines rate payers, you get to pay for the development and expansion going west. Pump stations, feeder mains, additional treatment plants, whatever, you get to help pay for that. From the suburbs perspective then we also get to pay for an aging infrastructure that's occurring in Des Moines Water Works" said Acheson.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Jarad Klein of Washington County, says everyone needs to slow down, and that the bill hasn't even gone to subcommittee yet.

"We have an amendment in the process of being drafted to answer some of these concerns. My goal is to make it fair and equitable so that the elected officials can figure out the right way to provide safe and affordable drinking water to the people that they serve" said Klein.

Klein says the bill is supposed to give more communities a voice in how they get their water.

"Having more voices, more opinions, backgrounds, diversity at the table helps us produce a better result" said Klein.

Acheson says the bill is in response to the lawsuit filed by Des Moines Water Works against northern drainage districts.

"I think it’s an instrument which they are using to make a full sweep to bring everybody under control" said Acheson.

Klein denies that charge and says the bill is about making sure that more communities have a say in how much they are charged for water.