- 1871 – Frederic Hubbell and his law partner, Jefferson S. Polk, organized Des Moines Water Company. B. F. Allen, a prosperous Des Moines banker helped put up the $250,000 needed and then became the company’s first president. Allen had built Terrace Hill in 1867. In 1873, Allen purchased a bank in Chicago and moved there, but he couldn’t save the bank and went bankrupt. Hubbell and Polk bought off most of Allen’s assets with Hubbell buying Terrace Hill (which remained in the Hubbell family until it was given to the state in 1971). Augustus Denman became the general manager. His son, Charles Denman, worked as a cashier for several years and then took over as General Manager in 1896.
- The Water Company was governed by a Board of five directors, elected annually by stockholders. The Board appointed a president, secretary, and one member to run the company. They were given exclusive rights to construct and operate the Water Works for 40 years.
- The first site of the Water Company was on Walnut Street between Lyon and Farnham.
- A system known as the Holly Water Works was adopted. Holly System hydrants were capable of throwing six streams at once. The City said they must have 10 miles of pipe laid within 10 months. The hydrants were placed so “water can be drawn by citizens or passersby for purposes of drinking for persons or animals.” Within a year, there were 10.32 miles of pipe and 10 hydrants. A steam whistle was attached to the main pump to get the engineer’s attention if there was larger than usual water demand (for firefighting, for example). Pumps could discharge about 2-million-gallons per day. Sixty customers signed up right away. From June 1872 through June 1873, it cost $5,770 to operate the Water Works. No city taxes were levied for water use.
- Water came from a filtering tank that was sunk in the sand and gravel on the south side of the Raccoon River. It was made of boiler iron – 12 feet in diameter and 14 feet high. It was opened at the bottom, closed at the top, and was near the water’s edge. The sides were perforated in numerous placed to let water in. Water was delivered to pumps through a 16-inch cast iron suction main. In 1875, a “Y” was put in the suction main to lead directly to the river in case extra water was needed for a fire. In 1876, two more filtering tanks were sunk with open bottoms, boiler iron sides, and 12-ft by 12-ft timbers on top.
- In 1883, consulting engineers started planning a gallery system that would use groundwater along the river, the first of its kind in the U.S. In 1884, the first 250 feet of the gallery was constructed out of wood and 500 additional feet were added in 1885. The iron filters were then disconnected because they always got full of sand and gravel. More gallery was constructed almost every year, and a small dam made of stone and brush on the Raccoon was installed to increase the water level near the vicinity of the gallery (it had to be rebuilt many times). Construction of a new gallery began in 1902 but was delayed until 1904 because of terrible flooding. By 1910, concrete rings replaced wood in the gallery construction. The concrete rings were 5 feet in diameter and 2 feet long and held slightly apart so water could trickle in. By 1924, about 3,000 feet of gallery constructed on the north side of the Raccoon had to be abandoned because it was becoming polluted from downtown industrial development.
- In 1880, the name was changed to Des Moines Water Works Co.
- In 1891, the first water tower was constructed on 17th Street, between Center and Crocker. Made of steel with a lacy ironwork railing and spiral stairway, it held 530,000 gallons of water. (It wasn’t used after the Hazen Tower was put in use in 1931).
- A flood in June of 1903 was said to be the worst in history. Trains were halted. Property damage was estimated at $500,000. Business was totally suspended, hundreds became unemployed, and churches and schools opened up to take care of the homeless.
- In 1910, construction of ponds in the park began to augment the water supply. In 1918, a permanent pumping station was built on the park grounds to pump water from the river into these ponds.
- In years of being privately owned, there were constant complaints by the City Council and newspapers. The City would repeatedly try to buy the Water Works, but either couldn’t raise the money or couldn’t get the votes needed. In 1897, the newspaper and City Council launched a vigorous attack on water quality so they could get the company’s asking price down. In 1898, the City said they would purchase the company, but the people voted it down. In 1911, the vote finally passed, but Denman wouldn’t sell because the City was offering too little. Denman wrote a letter to the newspaper explaining to the people why he couldn’t accept the City’s offer and how the City hadn’t paid its water use bills for several years. Finally in 1913, a price agreement was reached. The vote to purchase in 1914 was favorable, but the vote to issue bonds didn’t pass. It was defeated again the next month, but passed in November. The City wanted to hold off until the bond market improved, and then was unable to sell enough bonds so sued for an extension of time. Finally in 1919, the City purchased the water company. Charles Denman, who had been running Des Moines Water Works Company since 1896, was appointed General Manager with a salary of $8,000. The company’s name was changed to Des Moines Water Works.
- When the Des Moines Water Company first started, there were 12,035 people in Des Moines. By 1920, there were 126,468. Between 1907 and 1919, the population grew 58 percent, the amount of mains laid grew 58 percent, and water consumption rose 139 percent. Water consumption was approximately 8.8-million-gallons per day. By 1919, there were 205 miles of pipe laid and there were a little over 2,000 fire hydrants. There was a steel water tower on 17th and Crocker that held 530,000 gallons (torn down in 1939).
- Construction of a new pumping station at its present site began in 1920. A wooden structure was quickly constructed and then a brick structure was built around it. When it was completed, the wooden interior was dismantled.
- In the early 1900s, there was concern about a number of typhoid deaths. Many of the deceased were people who still had private wells. The City passed an ordinance fixing standards of purity for water in 1911, and Des Moines Water Company started adding hypochlorite in 1912. Many people complained because they thought the chlorine would kill fish and injure their skin and hands. Water Works published a statement explaining the small amount of chlorine that was added (.0000048 per gallon).
- In 1912, a laboratory was started with a chemist, a bacteriologist, and an assistant. In 1917, a study was conducted by an outside source on river conditions of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers. The main pollution of the Raccoon was said to come from nearby privies, sewage from upstream residents, septic tanks, and a car shop in Valley Junction.
- Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) was formed as a public utility under a new Code of Iowa, Section 388, in 1919. Under this Code, the water utility is operated by a Board of Trustees, who are appointed by the Mayor of the City of Des Moines and approved by the City Council. The Board of Trustees has all of the powers of the City Council to operate the utility except for levying taxes. The utility is owned by the citizens of Des Moines. The Board of Trustees hires a General Manager to operate the utility. The General Manager produces an annual budget for the operations of the utility using revenue from the sale of water as the primary income source. This budget is reviewed, modified, and approved by the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees is the only body of the utility which can enter into contracts, and the utility must comply with State of Iowa public improvement bidding laws.
- In 1920, land known as “Valley Gardens” was purchased to build a railroad to connect with the pumping station (cost of $11,254).
- In 1922, south Des Moines citizens wanted to be hooked up to city water, but Water Works wouldn’t install more mains until more people started hooking up to existing water mains (couldn’t afford to add on).
- In 1922, started to build machine shop, carpenter’s shop, paint shop, garage for 30 vehicles, warehouse, storage shed, stable, and cottages (3 of them for employees who were plant and grounds caretakers).
- In 1922, construction started on the grounds. Had used dirt around pumping station to build it up so made these holes in ground into lagoon and goldfish pond. Would have cost $60,000 to have someone haul away dirt. Spent $30,000 on improvements, so saved $30,000 overall. Goldfish had been given to Denman from a retiring business owner. They were small but grew to be 6 inches and 1 pound in the pond. In 1931, a type of jellyfish got into the pond from some water lilies from Ohio and started suffocating the fish, but the goldfish mounted a counterattack and got rid of all of them. Denman reassured Des Moines residents that the jellyfish could not get in their water supply. Four bronze frogs spouted water from each corner of the pond. These frogs were made by sculptor Florence Sprague, an instructor in the Art Department at Drake.
- In 1923, 5,000 feet was added to the gallery, and a dam on the Raccoon River was constructed.
- In 1923, an attorney prepared a bill for the legislature to remove the DMWW Board from supervision by the City Council (of course the Mayor and Council opposed this). It became law that spring that the Mayor appoints Board members as vacancies occur and the City Council has to approve the appointments. Management of DMWW is the responsibility of the Board.
- In 1924, employees started getting paid by check instead of cash.
- In 1924, Water Works discontinued farming on the grounds. There had been 378 acres of crops—corn, alfalfa, oats, timothy, and clover. Seven horses were also owned for hauling dirt, pulling the lawnmowers, etc. DMWW periodically bought land for many years, and as more land was accumulated, land was again leased to some farmers. Denman wanted to accumulate as much Raccoon River upstream land as possible to protect the river from pollution. Outside groups often requested to buy Water Works land to build such things as golf courses, ball diamonds, etc.
- In 1927-1933, problems with a nearby sand and gravel company altered the course of the Raccoon River from its extraction. Water Works bought their property in 1933.
- In 1928, Denman recommended adding a softening plant to save customers money spent on soap and wear and tear on clothes. Arguments for and against it continued into the late 1930s with the Board voting to delay building in 1938 (didn’t want to raise rates). It was further delayed because of the war.
- In 1928, the first outside pay station was established at the Nelse Hansen Company on 6th Street. By 1971, there were 25 pay stations.
- In 1929, construction of the Hazen Tower began (Hickman) Doric architecture made of concrete and steel 110 feet high. Sank 585 concrete piles. The tank holds 2-million-gallons of water and weighs 20,000 tons. Hazen was the designer and builder (he died suddenly before its completion). An arrow pointing to the airport was painted on top of it (1933) for many years.
- In 1930, a large flower show was conducted on Water Works grounds (around the pumping station area), and again in 1931 (the newspaper said 10,000 attended on the first day but that may have been an exaggeration).
- In 1931, a mated pair of Canadian geese was put in the park to establish a sanctuary (sponsored by Izaak Walton League). Water Works Park officially became a state game refuge.
- In 1931, scientists started realizing the part fluoride plays in preventing tooth decay. This opened a new field of nationwide study and controversy that continued for three decades.
- In 1932, the final gallery extension was made, adding 10-million-gallons per day.
- In 1933, Denman provided work to many men to work out the water bills they couldn’t pay (Depression). Men often worked several days. This practice continued until 1935 (about 4,500 men did this). Many worked to lay water mains, grade park roads, inspect hydrants, and beautify the park. Seven-thousand plantings of trees and shrubs were made yearly from seedlings grown in the greenhouse under the care of Arie den Boer (started in 1928), who also introduced several hundred varieties of crabapple trees and won many awards for his work in horticulture. This year, the park opened to the public and thousands flocked to visit it. A log cabin with a stone fireplace outside was booked for the entire season. The cabin had been built in 1928 to shelter workmen clearing some of the back tracts of the park. It was built of native woods. By 1955, it was in such disrepair that it was torn down, but the fireplace and chimney were left and are still standing. In the 1960s, over 3,000 of the park’s elms died or had to be destroyed because of Dutch Elm Disease. In 1961, the crabapple orchard was named Arie den Boer Arboretum (he retired that year). Also in 1961, Den Boer had received the medal of honor of the Garden Clubs of America, its highest horticultural award. His book, Flowering Crab Apples, was published in 1959; it contained color photos and reproductions of his slides, in addition to his own pen and ink sketches.
- After Denman died in 1933, Dale Maffitt became General Manager. A stone seat with a brass relief of his face was put at the goldfish pond to honor Denman.
- In 1934, Urbandale finally passed a bond issue to get city water. Their wells were going dry and water was being rationed there. There was a drought that year. You could step across the Raccoon River at the 9th Street Bridge. The City installed taps on hydrants for residents to use. There was no shortage of water at DMWW.
- In 1937, DMWW sued the City for not paying its water bill for several years ($240,000) and finally received some of the money.
- By 1938, people outside the city wanted city water, but the city doesn’t want DMWW to provide it because it would encourage people to leave the city and then not be there to pay for the government services.
- During the war, security measures were tightened. Guards were used and a cyclone fence was constructed in 1942.
- In 1942, DMWW picked a site southwest of Des Moines for a reservoir to use during emergencies. Six-hundred-fifty acres of farmland was purchased for $400,000. It took a year to complete. It was opened for fishing in 1948. The reservoir was not named Maffitt until 1955. Dale Maffitt was the General Manager from 1933-1955.
- In 1945, another flood occurred and in 1947 a record-breaking flood occurred. Employees used boats to get to work. DMWW was able to keep water out of the pump and furnace rooms. The gallery stayed clean, but extra chlorine was added. The pumping station was an island.
- In 1948, the softening plant was finally built (completed in 1949). It was called the filter building and also housed the laboratory. In 1958, eight more filters and two more softening basins were added.
- Also in 1948, construction of the Raccoon River intake began.
- In 1948, the first increase in water rates in 50 years occurred.
- In 1950, they started building levees around the treatment plant, which have been added to since the 1993 Flood and are presently 31 feet high.
- From 1951-1959, many local news articles were published about the pros and cons of adding fluoride to the water. In 1958, the US Attorney General ruled that fluoride was legal; and in 1959, DMWW started fluoridating its water at the request of the City Council. Protestors could come to the plant to get unfluoridated water if they wanted to.
- In 1954, the practice of giving free water to the park caretakers ceased.
- In 1955, the Nollen Standpipe was built at 26th and Hull (named for Henry Nollen, a longtime Board member from 1919-1941, and President of Equitable Life Insurance Company). The Wilchinski Standpipe at SE 9th and Pleasant View Drive was also built (also named for a longtime Board member who served from 1919-1937. He was general manager of Younkers.) Land for a north standpipe was also purchased in 1955, but construction on the standpipe did not begin until 1959. In 1973, this standpipe was named Tenny (General Manager, 1955-1968), located by Sears at Merle Hay Mall.
- In 1956, a steam engine was brought to DMWW to serve as a backup to the boiler. Employees loved to climb in and ring its bell. It was removed in 1959.
- In 1957, Iowa Light and Power installed a substation at Water Works. Electric motors began to be used. Electric high- and low-lift pumps were purchased (end of steam power).
- In 1957, it was decided a dam would be constructed at Saylorville (government decision, not DMWW), but groundbreaking didn’t take place until 1965.
- In 1959, construction began on the north standpipe (by Sears).
- In 1965, a backup diesel pump was placed in the pumping station.
- In 1966-1969, Fleur Drive was widened, so the lagoon in front of the pumping station was eliminated.
- In 1972, water meters were installed on the outside of homes.
- In 1973, the standpipe by Merle Hay Mall was named Tenny after the General Manager.
- In 1975, settling basin construction began.
- In 1985, offices were built on Valley Drive (had a reflecting pool in front).
- In 1987, a TCE removal facility (trichloroethylene – a harmful industrial solvent) was built.
- In 1992, the nitrate removal facility was built (eight tanks).
- In 1993, there was a record flood. Raccoon River crested at 26.7, 14.7 ft above flood stage. Water Works Treatment Plant was shut down and City of Des Moines residents were without water service for 11 days and non-potable water for 18 days.
- In 1994, a new laboratory was built.
- In 1994, the sludge dewatering plant was constructed.
- In 1994, the offices were remodeled after the flood (now two stories and no reflecting pool in front).
- In 1994, groundbreaking for the Maffitt Treatment Plant occurred.
- In 1999, the Ankeny Aquifer Storage and Recovery program (ASR) began operation.
- In May of 2000, the Treatment Plant at Maffitt began operation using nine radial collector wells for its main water source, but also drawing from Maffitt Reservoir when additional water resources are needed. It can pump up to 25 mgd.
- August 2003, sets the monthly record for pumpage (2,262,820,000 gallons).
- June 6, 2006, groundbreaking for the Saylorville Water Treatment Plant, DMWW’s third treatment plant located in the 6500 block of NW 26th Street in Polk County. The treatment plant will utilize membrane technology to soften and purify the finished water. This is DMWW’s first membrane treatment plant and the largest such facility in Iowa. The plant will have an initial capacity of 10 million gallons per day (mgd) and be expandable to 20 mgd.
- June 7, 2006, set a daily pumpage record of 90.19 mg.
- December 2007, L.D. McMullen Retires; Randall R. Beavers named Interim CEO & General Manager. Board of Water Works Trustees renames Maffitt Treatment Plant to L.D. McMullen Water Treatment Plant
- April 2008, Forbes.com names Des Moines Best City for Clean Drinking Water
- June 2008, Flood of 2008. Raccoon River crested at 24.5 feet at Fleur Drive Treatment Plant, 12.5 feet above flood stage and 2.2 feet below Flood of 1993 record. Due to extensive levee work and flood preparation, DMWW conducted normal treatment operations throughout the flood.
- December 2008, Randall R. Beavers named CEO & General Manager.
- April 2011, official start-up of Saylorville Water Treatment Plant.
- On July 24, 2012, a new record for daily pumpage was set – 96.64 million gallons.
- In July 2012, a new monthly record for pumpage was set – 2,544.12 million gallons.
- September 2012, William G. Stowe named CEO & General Manager.
- 2015, construction of DMWW’s third aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) well at Army Post and 63rd Street.
Des Moines Water Works General Managers
Benjamin Allen, President 1871-1873
Augustus Denman, President 1873-1896
Charles Denman 1896-1933
Dale Maffitt 1933-1955
Morris Tenny 1955-1968
Maurice King 1968-1977
Dean Johnson 1977-1985
L.D. McMullen 1985-2007
Randall R. Beavers 2008-2012
William G. Stowe 2012-present