A Republican-sponsored bill, HF316, would replace the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) and replace it with a regional water authority appointed by Des Moines and suburban municipalities. State Representative Jarad Klein (R-Keota), the bill’s sponsor, claims the utilities’ suburban customers don’t currently have adequate representation.
It’s assumed that Klein’s real motivation is to punish the DMWW for filing the federal lawsuit against three Iowa Counties. That suit alleged that these three counties are major contributors to the dangerously high levels of nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River watershed. The Raccoon River is the major source of drinking water for over 500,000 metro residents processed by the DMWW.
Bill Stowe, executive director of the DMWW, was quoted in the Des Moines Register in a Sunday article about HF316, saying, “This is clearly retribution for our lawsuit … Our message (that) Iowa needs to protect the public health of its residents by protecting its water isn’t going to get lost by trying to scramble our board or pull it into the City of Des Moines.”
Former Iowa Senator Jack Hatch sent the letter below to the Des Moines City Council asking them to oppose HF316.
Dear Des Moines City Council members,
I am writing because I am distressed over your apparent agreement of regionalizing the governance of the DMWW. We have known each other for years and I consider you friends as I represented the heart of our city in the legislature, most recently as senator.
The move away from an independent water utility to a regional utility is not what I am distressed about; rather, it’s the overreach of the legislature to change the governance of the DMWW without public input or meaningful discussion with our elected officials. It’s a power grab motivated by political objectives; plain and simple. It violates Home Rule by removing local government’s accountability on other layers of government.
From the article in Sunday’s DM Register, it implied that the Mayor and Council are approving the present legislative grab in HF 316. Really? The mayor is quoted to signal his approval as a “lesser of two evils”. This is not what I expect from my elected officials. It is being led by rural legislators publically responding to the DMWWs law suit against northern drainage districts polluting Des Moines’ drinking water. Your response can not be “it’s the lesser of two evils”.
I understand regional governance. I authored and floor managed two changes in state statutes allowing cities and counties to govern regionally. This is different. The Republican controlled legislature is forcing a new form of governance without local input. The most insulting part of this approach is prohibiting people, who are most affected by this change, NO AVENUE TO RESPOND. This arrogant and ideologically motivated proposal is not good for the rate payers of the DMWW, who are the same constituents as your voters. Stand up for us.
Delivering water, which is a public health and safety necessity, should not be a partisan issue. HF316 is an Agricultural Committee bill dictating water supply policy to urban area residents. This approach to controlling water distribution, water quality and taking assets at the risk of public health has been tried before – in Flint, Michigan.
I expect our city council to stand up and make the public case for NOT supporting HF 316. If you want a new regional governance approach then support an effort to substitute HF 316 with a structure to require our citizens to design a regional system and place it on the ballot like other Home Rule governance issues. Anything else is a failure to protect the rate payers and potentially putting our health in jeopardy.
Intro by Rick Smith
Photo via Flickr