Water quality has been a top concern for residents of Des Moines in recent years, and the topic was highlighted often at a recent Des Moines City Council candidate forum earlier this week.
Ward Three Incumbent Josh Mandelbaum raised the issue with one of the other candidates, Cory McAnelly, in a back-and-forth section 0f the forum where participants could ask each other questions. Specifically, Mandelbaum, who is running for a second term, asked about the attack ads against former Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe and what McAnelly thought about them.
McAnnelly didn’t say whether he agreed with the campaigns but emphasized he wasn’t involved in them and he’d rather focus on the future.
“I wasn’t around four years ago and I’m not the candidate that—the candidates who ran those smear ads and who ran those smear campaigns they’re not me,” he said.
Fallout over the 2017 clash between the Iowa Partnership for Clean Water, a Farm Bureau-backed organization based around the idea agriculture is unfairly blamed for Iowa’s water quality problems, and Stowe still lingers in water quality debates and policy decisions. Stowe attempted to sue three northwest Iowa counties over runoff from farms polluting the Raccoon River, which flows through Des Moines and is a source of drinking water, thus burdening Des Moines residents who pay for the efforts to clean the river.
At the time, there was also a bill in the legislature that would disband Des Moines Water Works, but it ultimately failed.
Mandelbaum also asked whether McAnnelly would support regulatory efforts to enforce cleaner water standards.
“One of the things that I think is absolutely critical is that we have advocates for clean water and specific solutions,” Mandelbaum, who is a senior attorney for the Environmental Law Center in Des Moines, said.
McAnnelly replied by saying that improving water in Des Moines is important, and that his main focus would be to work with others who are interested in the subject to find a solution.
“The way we’re going to make change for Des Moines is by building coalitions and making sure that we’re bringing people to the table leading aggressively from Des Moines to champion water quality,” he said.
At-large candidate Justyn Lewis also recognized the need for addressing drainage and runoff issues.
“We really have to work upstream and start building those coalitions, pushing legislators to make sure that the water that we get here stays and remains clean,” he said. “If not, one of two things can happen: our bills will continue to increase or Des Moines will become obsolete and that’s something that’s very scary for all of us.”
Lewis said clean water is at the top of his list for issues to address immediately.
Agriculture runoff contributes nitrates, E. Coli, and other pollutants to Iowa’s waters, leading to toxic algae blooms and generally unsafe water. Runoff flows downstream from farms, eventually collecting in the Mississippi River, its tributaries, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Experts say regulating the amount of fertilizer farmers can use on their fields would help. So would building infrastructure that captures pollutants, like saturated buffers, and purifies the water, like wetlands.
Questions were also asked about police reform, especially in light of recent allegations of sexual harassment of female officers and employees and settlements for actions like excessive force and racial profiling.
Every candidate, including at-large candidate and incumbent Connie Boesen and Ward Three candidate Brandi Webber, said accountability should be the utmost importance when handling police misconduct.
“It’s clear to me that we have to fundamentally rethink how we are funding public safety,” Webber said. “By creating alternate systems and holding those in power accountable we can start to rebuild public trust.”
Boesen went into detail about improvements to the Broadlawns Medical Center mental health crisis services the city has in place to help handle mental health calls.
“I’ve also supported and advocated and was able to secure this year, a 24/7 mental health crisis team. We did not have that before, we only had two shifts. We’re also adding on more police officers to be trained,” she said. “We’re trying to hire the mental health clinicians to go out and serve at calls when the mental health calls come in. We’re going to put a mental health specialist in the 911 call center so they can analyze what needs to be done.”
Each advocated for better training in de-escalation and racial profiling, handling mental health cases with mental health experts, and handling offenders quickly.
Other questions from the audience concerned neighborhood revitalization projects and promoting small businesses.