Blank Park Zoo’s Free Pass on Water Usage Coming to an End

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Des Moines Water Works has agreements in place with city owned and operated properties, like city hall, so they don’t have to pay for water. But in 2003, when the Blank Park Foundation took over the zoo's day-to-day operations, the zoo was disqualified from getting a pass on the utility.

However, it took until August of 2018 for Water Works to discover the situation.

“The foundation signed an agreement with the city and did not pay for water, and in 2011 we signed an updated 28E agreement to run the city zoo and we have not paid for water, so we were kinda stunned when we got the water bill,” said Blank Park Zoo's CEO Mark Vukovich.

Des Moines Water Works says they were never notified in 2003 that when the city handed over operations of the zoo to the nonprofit, the zoo would be responsible for the cost of water.

“Unfortunately, there was a lot of miscommunications and missed opportunities to communicate between all parties. It's just a trap that we unfortunately uncovered and we hope to correct it,” said Water Works spokesperson Laura Sarcone.

Sarcone says the zoo should have been responsible for over a million dollars in water costs since 2003.

“It's a similar situation where we see with the municipal golf courses here in Des Moines. The land and the structures are all owned by the city, but an actual contractor is operating it,” she said.

Municipal golf courses pay for water usage.

Water Works says they are willing to work with the zoo, only expecting to be paid since they realized the error. Vukovich says having to pay for water will have an impact on what they can offer.

“As a nonprofit, every dollar we make after we pay our bills goes back into the zoo. Last year we gave away 30,000 free tickets to nonprofit organizations. We do a lot in the community at the county centers and we have done our darndest to keep prices low. Anything that we add to our cost factor would have to come from somewhere,” said Vukovich.

The zoo uses an average of 3.5 million gallons per month, and not paying for water does have an impact on residential rates. Vukovich says the zoo will be working to come up with a solution.

“We understand that people are concerned about that, and we're willing to engage some sort of arrangement where we contribute to the cause,” he said.

In 2018 the zoo's water bill was $74,000.

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