By Sandy Kale – Clarke County Reservoir Commission chair
As citizens of the city of Osceola and Clarke County, you have likely seen recent letters about the development of the new water supply for Osceola and Clarke County. On behalf of the Clarke County Reservoir Commission (CCRC), I wanted to share with you some information that we believe is important to provide context to this issue.
As early as 1990, it became clear that the residents, businesses and farmers in Osceola and Clarke County needed a larger water supply to meet increased demand and to provide opportunity for economic growth and development in our county. Water is an essential component in any local, regional or national economic development strategy.
As we explored options, we worked closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to develop initial projections and plans. We believed, at the time, that access to the potential federal financial investment to lower the cost to our citizens of developing a new water supply was a prudent step to take. Federal investment in water supply reservoirs required a multi-use plan. It is fair to say that early plans for a water supply in Clarke County included recreational use.
That plan changed for two main reasons. First, the availability of federal funds evaporated. Second, Iowa passed a law to better protect private property rights that restricted the ability of a water supply to use condemnation to acquire property if recreation was a use of that reservoir.
After passage of this law in 2006, CCRC adapted to the new law and redesigned the drinking water reservoir to eliminate the planned recreational use. It is disingenuous to continue to say that recreation is a purpose of the project. The current reservoir is sized to provide water supply and meets Iowa’s current standards for new water supply reservoirs. This was recently demonstrated in a district court opinion that CCRC had appropriately followed the law with respect to the design of the drinking water reservoir.
Some critical of the planned drinking water reservoir note that despite removing the recreational pool (amount of water needed to support recreational use); the size of the proposed drinking water reservoir actually grew.
That is a true statement. It did become larger. The explanation is simple. Iowa rules require that any new drinking water supply comply with the “10-States Standards for Waterworks” before being permitted as a drinking water supply. The purpose of these standards is to ensure that any such drinking water reservoir is appropriately sized to provide sufficient water in a one in 50 drought event.
A quick look at our history illustrates the importance of this standard. Water usage in 2010 (the year that the last census was completed) was below average. This was a wet year, thereby reducing the amount of water used by residents and agriculture. Just two years later, we experienced a drought year and our water usage far exceeded the average. This occurred without significant population changes or additions of high water users to the current system.
The “10-State Standards for Waterworks” also require projections include all uses of the water supply – residential, industrial, commercial and agricultural. It may come as a surprise to many of you to realize 45 percent of our water supports industry and agriculture. Planning for our future drinking water supply without considering these uses would be a dereliction of our responsibility to the citizens and businesses in Osceola and Clarke County.
Some claim CCRC is deliberately trying to circumvent Iowa law. CCRC takes its responsibility to adhere to all the applicable laws and regulations seriously. When Iowa’s eminent domain law changed in 2006, we adapted and redesigned the drinking water supply to comply with those requirements.
In 2015, the legislature adopted further restrictions on the development of a drinking water supply in Clarke County. It is important to note these restrictions only apply to Clarke County and more importantly these restrictions only apply if condemnation of property is to be used.
CCRC continues to work with willing landowners to acquire the land needed to construct a new drinking water supply. In addition, based on the2015 law, CCRC is exploring viable options to reduce the impact on private property while still maintaining sufficient water supply to allow us to meet the current and future needs of our customers.
CCRC remains committed to developing a drinking water supply in Clarke County within the confines of the law. The members of the commission and our project coordinator are available to answer your questions and welcome the opportunity to do so.
More information on the CCRC can be found here: www.ClarkeCountyReservoir.com