Des Moines faces extreme measures to find clean water

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — For years, Des Moines Water Works has tried to force or cajole farmers upstream to reduce the runoff of fertilizer that leaves the rivers with sky-high nitrate levels but lawsuits and legislative lobbying have failed. Now, it’s considering a drastic measure that, as a rule, large cities just don’t do — resorting to wells to find clean water. 

Small communities and individuals use wells, but metro areas the size of Des Moines have always relied primarily on rivers and lakes for the large volumes of water needed. It’s frustrating for utility officials but they say they have little choice. 

Farmers acknowledge they must help reduce nitrates but say voluntary efforts will be more effective than government regulations.