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WATER WOES: Struggle For Community Gardens

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It was supposed to be easier this year.

The planting beds were in place, strawberries returning and neighborhood volunteers had the memories of last year’s bumper crop to fuel them.

“We got a lot of vegetables and produce out of it,” said Terry Mitchell, a resident of the King-Irving neighborhood on Des Moines' near-north side.

“At one point we were harvesting 250 pounds of tomatoes daily,” said Ralph Chiodo, who runs the community garden as a part of his Forest Avenue Outreach program.

Around 3,000 pounds of fresh food and out of a forgotten site in the King-Irving Neighborhood that formerly produced little more than sore eyes.

“100% of the food from these gardens go to food pantries and neighborhood families—people who participate,” Chiodo said.

But the good vibe at this community garden and the others in Des Moines was knocked askew this week by a call from Des Moines Water Works regarding this year’s water rates.

“It’s gonna be more—significantly more," Chiodo said. "They’re gonna charge $50 rental per month, plus the cost of our water, and then they want a $650 deposit on the box as well.”

The gardens—including the one Terry Mitchell coordinates at the corner of 19th and College—were suddenly in jeopardy.

“There’s just no way our neighborhood could come up with that down payment and $50 a month," she said.

Businesses pay Water Works $50 per month and a $650 deposit to rent a meter box to draw water from nearby hydrants. Approached by two community gardens five years ago, Water Works loaned them the boxes at a steep discount. But last year, the number of gardens grew to more than a dozen and Water Works decided to charge full price in 2014.

“Out of a $52 million budget, it is not a significant fiscal impact to us—and I would not stand here and represent that it is," said Water Works representative, Amy Kahler, "but it is not fair that Des Moines Water Works is making these choices on which organizations to support on the backs of our customers, of our rate-payers.”

Garden organizers plan to petition Water Works to reconsider, but also plan to appeal to private donors.

“We know there are a lot of supporters out there for gardens," said Aubrey Martinez of the outreach group Eat Greater Des Moines, "and this is one of those times when there’s a specific need, there’s a specific ask and this is where people can really step up and help.”

Spring blooms eternal—especially in community gardens—but when the heat of summer rolls in, they could become desperate places once again.


  • BrownSugarC

    How ironic that the Water Works would use the comment “it’s not fair”. The community garden concept is a nation wide program. Why doesn’t Waterworks simply apply for one of the many grants available?

  • Give a little Water Works

    As high as our water bill is every month, and we both work out every morning so most of our showering is done at the gym, seem to me the Water Works could afford to show a little compassion.

  • Casey Simpson

    why can’t they just work with houses in neighboring lots to run a garden hose from an outdoor spigot from the house? I understand the need for water is only during the spring/summer, but if Water Works wants to be jerks about charging to pull from a hydrant, then just get the water from a home with already established service/meter

  • do you want to do it?

    do you want that garden hose attached to your house? The people using it arent’ paying for it. It’s easier to just leave the water running once they’ve turned it on, so, maybe they just leave it running the entire 2 hours they are there, especially if they have to come in to your back yard to turn the water on and off.
    I wouldn’t want the water just left on at my house 24/7 and count on the sprayer at the end of the hose as the shut off. those leak, so, now you are running water 24/7.
    Also, what if I want to use my spigot? Now I have to go collect the hose and sprayer out of the community garden and drag it back to my back yard. In which case, do I want to be responsible for providing a hose and sprayer for their use? If they have their own hose, either they have to come into my yard each use and hook it up, or it has to be in my yard all of the time.
    Water has gotten expensive compared to what it used to be. Actually it isn’t the water, it’s all of the fees Water Works adds to your bill. But, those fees are based in large part off of how much water you use. So, by giving these people my water, I also increase my other fees.

    What can’t water works just give a little on the boxes? they’ve done it in the past. they admit it isn’t really about the money.

  • For the Good of the Community

    “It is not fair that Des Moines Water Works is making these choices on which organizations to support on the backs of our customers, of our rate-payers.”
    Previously, community gardens were paying a $50 deposit, $10 per month plus the normal rate for the amount of water used. Community gardens were not being supported on the backs of DMWW customers but were paying their own way.
    DMWW is a public entity, paid for by the community, and should work for the good of the community–in this case enabling community members to garden using fire hydrants as a water source.

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