Des Moines water bills expected to increase 10 percent in 2016

The Des Moines River near downtown Des Moines. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
The Des Moines River near downtown Des Moines. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | December 30, 2015

As 2015 wraps up, Des Moines residents can prepare for a 10 percent increase on their water bills in 2016.

The rate increase comes in the midst of a lawsuit between the Des Moines Water Works and three northern Iowa drainage districts. The water utility claims the drainage districts are not doing enough to prevent nitrate pollution in public waterways which has forced the utility to operate its Nitrate Removal Facility. The additional equipment costs up to $7,000 per day to operate which is eventually passed on to the more than a quarter of a million customers in the Des Moines area.

Rates are expected to go up in April of 2016. Bill Stowe – CEO of the Des Moines Water Works – recently told Iowa Public Radio that it will cost $80 million to update its nitrate removal system and that he’s been disappointed by the state’s political leadership regarding the situation.

“I’m particularly disappointed in the last year that we haven’t had political leadership from either party in Iowa to step forward and move this towards some kind of negotiated settlement…We believe we’re going to prevail in a court of law.”

Stowe added, “If we don’t [previal] we believe there will be big public policy consequences from that.”

A lawyer representing the water districts is arguing that the districts little authority outside of draining land and therefore cannot be held accountable “for damages that result from actions over which the districts have no control,” as reported by the Sioux City Journal. Earlier this year a motion was filed asking U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett to drop eight of the 10 charges against the drainage districts.

Bennett expects to have a ruling on the issue by mid-January.

2013 Nutrient Management Standard released in Iowa

Photo by Derek Preston; Flickr

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently released the new Iowa Nutrient Management Conservation Practice Standard – the guiding document for implementing nutrient management plans for Iowa farmers.

To learn more, follow the link above, or head over to the National Hog Farmer website.

Lead shot update


Photo by ALBOWIEB, Flickr.

Governor Terry Branstad overturned the ban on lead shot earlier in the month, making lead shot legal for the upcoming dove-hunting season.

Originally, the use of lead shot for dove hunting was banned by the Natural Resources Commission due to lead’s harmful environmental effects. The dove season opens on September 1.

As noted on our radio segment, the biggest concern with lead shot are the unwanted wildlife deaths. Animals ingest the lead pellets after mistaking them for food.

Branstad opposed the ban in large part because he felt the Natural Resources Commission exceeded their authority when they issued it.

Read more from the Sioux City Journal here.

Iowa lawmakers debate whistle-blowing methods on farms

Photo by edmundyeo, Flickr

Back in June, video footage surfaced of animal cruelty towards pigs at Iowa Select Farms.

The video was filmed by investigators for the animal rights organization, Mercy for Animals. They were able to obtain the footage using a small undercover camera after getting hired to work at the pig farm.

Some Iowa lawmakers are now trying to pass laws that will make it illegal for investigators to obtain agricultural jobs under false pretenses. Additionally, some lawmakers believe there should be laws against filming farm activity without permission of the farm owner.

Read the full article from the Sioux City Journal here.

Animal waste regulations eliminated

Photo by podchef, Flickr

Iowa’s Environmental Protection Commission recently retracted permitting requirements for large-scale animal farms. These requirements used to mandate that farmers in charge of confined animal feeding operations receive a permit from the Department of Natural Resources before discharging animal waste.  The Sioux City Journal reports that this decision caused outrage among local environmentalists, including members of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI):

The ICCI representatives, several dressed in T-shirts promoting their organization, didn’t stay for the vote. “The fix is in anyway,” Goodner said as he and other members left the conference room.

Their comments before the vote included several points, not in the least that they thought the board was stacked in favor of agribusiness and hostile to environmental regulation.

Several of the speakers singled out commissioners Brent Ratsetter and Delores Mertz, saying they should rescue themselves from the vote, if not the commission entirely. Continue reading

Hyperion says it will cut emissions from proposed tar sands refinery


Texas-based Hyperion Refining LLC has changed plans yet again for its proposed 400,000 barrel-a-day tar sands oil plant near the Iowa-South Dakota border. This time, the change may reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week, the Sioux City Journal reported:

Hyperion Refining said Monday that it will be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 57,000 tons per year over its previous estimates by incorporating four additional heat recovery devices into the design of the 400,000-barrel-per-day oil refinery it is planning to build near Elk Point and Vermillion, S.D. Continue reading

Proposed hyperion oil refinery doubles methane estimates

Methane emissions estimates increased twofold for the proposed tar sands oil refinery in Elk Point, S.D., which is near the South Dakota-Iowa border. (Photo: The City of Elk Point, SD.)

If it is ever built, it will be dirtier.

Texas-based Hyperion Refining LLC has altered its methane emission estimates on its proposed 400,000 barrel-a-day tar sands oil plant near the Iowa-South Dakota border.

It had previously omitted details about part of the refining process, reports the Sioux City Journal.

The company now expects the refinery to produce alsost twice as much methane – 980 tons per year instead of 498. That is significant, because as the Sioux City Journal reports:

Methane, an odorless gas, is considered a more potent greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the atmosphere at a rate 20 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Hyperion said it had inadvertently left coke drum steam vents out of its original estimates to the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Continue reading

Proposed Hyperion tar sands oil refinery sparks cross-border controversy


An oil refinery, Shell at Martinez, California. (photo: Wikipedia commons)


A proposed $10 billion tar sands oil refinery near the South Dakota-Iowa border is causing a stir among political and environmental groups in both states. If all goes as Hyperion plans, it will be the first tar sands refinery built in the U.S. since the 1970s.

Environmental groups argue that the crude tar sands oil is the dirtiest around, and the refinery would pose a huge threat to the land, air, and water supply in both states. Hyperion says it will use the greenest of technology – a notion loudly disputed by those who have critically examined the proposal

And politicians in both states in support of the plant argue that it will bring much-need jobs into the area.

From the Iowa Independent:

The $10 billion refinery will be built in Elk Point, S.D., just 30 miles north of Sioux City. With the area’s wind patterns and flow of the nearby Missouri River, environmental activists are calling the proposed refinery potentially “devastating” to Iowans’ safety. Although the Texas-based Hyperion Refining LLC says the facility will create 10,000 jobs — many of which will go to Iowans, the company assures — the negative environmental impacts of the oil extraction from the tar sands is well-document, critics say.

Continue reading