June 19, 2024

Water town hall addresses water shortage, answers questions

Osceola Water Works held a town hall meeting last Thursday at the Clarke County Fairgrounds for members of the public, providing updates on the current water situation in Osceola, tips for conservation, plans for the future and an opportunity for the public to ask questions.

Speaking at the town hall were Brandon Patterson, Osceola Water Works Superintendent; Alisha Kale, chairwoman of the Osceola Water Board; Ty Wheeler, Osceola City Administrator; and Dave Beck, project coordinator for the Clarke County Reservoir Commission (CCRC). Also on hand were water board members Larry Bishop, Dr. Jim Kimball and Mackenzie O’Hair, and Osceola City Council members Tom Bahls, Dan Hooper and Jose Vargas. Osceola Mayor Thomas Kedley moderated the meeting. A video recording of the town hall can be found on the Water Works’ website, https://osceolawaterworks.com/.

Water update

After opening remarks from Kale, Patterson gave an update on the water levels at West Lake, Osceola’s only water source. Lake levels are measured every Friday and, as of the meeting, the last measurement showed the water level at 75 inches below the spillway. Photos of West Lake showed the water continuing to recede from the spillway; the last time water was over the spillway was May of 2020.

The U.S. Drought Monitor continues to show Clarke County in a severe drought. In February of this year, the lake started at about 49 inches below spillway, but lack of spring rains and dry, hot weather over the summer months have seen the water levels continue to drop.Osceola is currently in section three of their water conservation ordinance, “Water Emergency - Restrictions.” Under this section, residents are to cease all outdoor water use, except in the cases of fire or hazard prevention. Residents are restricted to 7,000 gallons of water usage per month, and will pay a $20 premium per 1,000 gallons over 7,000. Commercial and industrial users are prohibited from using water that is not essential in providing products or services, and are restricted to a decrease in water usage of 3-10% of their monthly usage. They will also incur a premium rate for usage over that amount.

Consumer’s water will not be shut off for going over the amount limits.

How much water is left?

West Lake has two intakes - an upper intake and a lower intake. Based on the upper intake, Patterson said there is about a 200 day supply. Osceola Water Works has been working with a dive team throughout the year to assess the lower intake, and looking into the possibility of raising it. It has been determined that is a feasible option, and the lower intake will be raised four-feet the first weekend in November.

“If we raise that lower intake up four feet, that will be an area where we can treat the water effectively without issues, and that gains us about 100 days to our supply,” said Patterson, asking the community to continue their conservation efforts.

Effluent reuse

In looking at different ways to help with the water shortage, the Osceola City Council approved a wastewater treatment facility water reuse study agreement with Veenstra & Kimm in August. The study looked into the possibility of recirculating effluent from the new wastewater treatment plant back into the West Lake watershed.

“No, unfortunately this isn’t going to be a resolution to the problem that we’re facing in the next six to eight, ten weeks or better,” said Wheeler, who said that a pipeline would have to be run from the wastewater treatment plant to a a secondary outfall at a southern finger of West Lake, south of Ivy Street. Some modifications would also have to be done at the plant to add extra treatments to the effluent.

The effluent would be recirculated on a periodic basis, such as during the winter months to help bring water levels back up in West Lake. Wheeler estimated that four months of recirculation would see an estimated 43 to 69 million gallons provided, with eight months at 178-276 million gallons, or about 600-800,000 gallons per day.

“It’s a significant amount of recirculation,” said Wheeler.

Data also suggests that the water that would be recirculated into West Lake would be at the same level, or even better, than the current water, as the effluent would be void of nutrients.

The wastewater reuse plan has been submitted to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for review, and the hope is that it will qualify for federal funding that Iowa has available from the American Rescue Plan Act. The cost is estimated at $16.5 million, and a projected schedule would see the project finished in October of 2025.

“If we can get through this period, hopefully we can deploy something here that will be a bridge to get us to the ultimate resolution to our water issues here…that new water supply,” said Wheeler.

If the effluent reuse plan is approved by the DNR, it would be the first of its kind in Iowa.

New reservoir

The long-term goal to Osceola’s water problem is a new reservoir which will supplement West Lake. West Lake has a safe withdrawal rate of between 800-900,000 gallons per day (MGD), but draws about 1.4MGD. Once built the reservoir, known as Site 4B, will have a safe withdrawal rate of 2 MGD.

The reservoir project has been ongoing for over 30 years. Beck explained work on the reservoir began back in the 90′s with the Soil Conservation Service, today known as Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on an additional water source for the community. The water board at the time decided to work in Squaw Creek for the reservoir, and in approximately 2004, NRCS began to work with the commission on a more detailed reservoir plan.

In 2011, the environmental impact study in Squaw Creek was just about completed when the small watershed program was defunded. The commission continued to work on their own without federal funding, and when the program was refunded in 2020 they reapplied for assistance. However, it was necessary to rework the environmental impact study and complete Section 106; Section 106 assesses a project’s impact on anything of historical significance.

The reservoir commission has been reworking the plan since April of 2021, and expect to have it done about this time next year. At that time, the agencies should be able to authorize the plan for construction, final design and funding. That will take another two and a half to three years, then about a two-year construction period, followed by about two more years before the reservoir would be filled up and ready to begin drawing water.

“Before you could actually move water out of the reservoir, you’re probably looking at a minimum of eight years,” said Beck.

Beck also added that the commission is ahead of the curve, as all of the land and permanent easements have been acquired for the approximate 789-acre reservoir. The current estimated cost of the project is $92 million, and the commission is looking at receiving over $60 million in federal assistance.


Many questions were asked from the community including alternate water sources, water usage and what will happen once the 300 days is up.

West Lake usage and dredging

In response to a question about utilizing all of West Lake, Patterson said that the water in the lower part of the lake is of substandard quality.

“We’re not currently sending water to town below 12-feet…it’s below a standard that we try to provide. We did not want to go to that lower intake until we were forced to,” said Patterson.

Patterson said that he’s been asked about dredging, but with West Lake as Osceola’s only source of water, dredging would cause disruption to the water with no backup. Another issue is that the watershed can only supply so much - if there’s not enough to fill it, it won’t matter if the lake is deeper.

“We know that we have an issue, that’s why 30 years ago we started to try to build a reservoir and we’ve hit hurdle after hurdle…the reality is, we had the foresight,” said Patterson.

Alternative water sources

* SIRWA (Southern Iowa Rural Water Association)

SIRWA currently provides water for rural Clarke County as well as surrounding counties. SIRWA is in its finishing stages of a new water treatment plant and hope to be online in January, easing some of the burden on Osceola. When asked about SIRWA providing water to Osceola, Brenda Standley, co-general manager for SIRWA, explained that their system isn’t interconnected system-wide, nor does it have the infrastructure to supply the entire city of Osceola. They could only supply a small area for a very short period of time if needed. Bringing water to Osceola could only be traded off with what is currently supplied from Creston Water Works.

“The infrastructure’s just not there to pull from other water sources and bring it this way,” said Standley.

* Sargent’s Quarry

In the 70′s, water was pumped from Sargent’s Quarry north of Osceola into West Lake during a time of water crisis. Kale said that she has been in contact with the Sargent family, but they have not yet been granted permission to go onto the property.

“Once we’re given permission, we’ll get on there, get some samples [and] see if there’s still water there,” said Kale.

* Arbor Valley Lake

Arbor Valley is a privately owned lake, and according to Kedley they have been in communication, but have not been given permission to use the lake at this time.

* Jordan aquifer

In 2008, a feasibility study was done on the Jordan aquifer, and found that the aquifer in Clarke County was very deep, and would require drilling a well at least 3,000 down. The facilities and structures needed to dig and maintain a well would be similar to the costs for the potential recirculation project, and the quality of the water would not be good.

* Buying water

Buying water from Des Moines and piping it to Osceola was looked at as part of the alternative studies for the new reservoir, however, Beck said the cost would exceed that of the reservoir over the lifecycle of the project.

* Rathbun Lake

Rathbun Lake was also looked into as an alternative to the reservoir. Water Works had looked at the line between Rathbun Lake and Chariton, however lines would have to be run from the western part of Clarke County to Chariton to get the extra water.

Day 301

A concern expressed was what will happen once the 300 days of usable water has passed.

Patterson said that the bottom four-feet of the lake can be used (after the lower intake is raised), but it won’t be water that anyone wants to drink. Once that lower four-feet is tapped into, it will provide about 130 days of water.

An emergency management notification was drafted into the water conservation ordinance, and it states that once West Lake has reached a supply of 120 days, Clarke County Emergency Management Coordinator, Byron Jimmerson, will be notified to start bringing in bottled water. Jimmerson said that he is in regular contact with the state, and they will be prepared when the day comes that bottled water is needed.

Community growth, usage and billing

When asked if West Lake can sustain continued growth in the community, Wheeler answered simply, “no.”

“In all seriousness, that’s why the Clarke County Reservoir project started…In wet years, we have a reservoir that can safely supply 800,000 gallons a [day] but we can take more of that. In dry years like we see right now, our usage taxes…West Lake, tremendously,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler later answered a question about when the city would look at restricting growth, and said that would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. A member of the Clarke County Development Corporation noted that Osceola has lost business and growth opportunities due to the situation with the water.

Talking about monthly water usage, residential uses 15-20%, industrial 28% and commercial 56%. Patterson said there are currently 74 residential accounts that meet the 7,000 gallon threshold.

A couple of suggestions were made towards billing, one begin to charger customers per gallon used versus per thousand, and another at some sort of rate reduction as an incentive to conserve water.

Petition and car washes

A petition had been brought to the Osceola city council to dissolve the Water Board of Trustees, and will be on the ballot Nov. 7. A vote of “no” to the dissolution will leave the water board intact. A vote of “yes” will dissolve the water board, with control and management of the Water Works returning to the city council.

When asked why car washes are still allowed to operate, Patterson replied that it is a business.

“I can’t shut off one particular business just as I can’t another,” said Patterson.

Conservation tips

Some tips for water conservation provided include:

- Turning off the water while brushing teeth or shaving

- Shorter showers/baths

- Running a full dishwasher or washing machine

- Using an automatic shut-off nozzle on outdoor hoses

- Finding ways to reuse water when hand washing dishes

- Checking for leaks in a toilet, faucets, pipes and appliances

Kale said that the water department also does readings on accounts, and contacts customers if their usage is outside their “normal.”

If water levels continue to decrease, the water board may look at entering stage four of water conservation, “Water Crisis - Restrictions.” At this stage, residential users would have a restriction of 5,000 gallons per month, and industrial and commercial users a 10-20% decrease of monthly usage. Premium rates would also increase from $20 to $40 for every thousand over the limit.

Contact your reps

Information on how to contact your representatives will be made available on the Osceola Water Works website.

“I ask you again to respectfully reach out to your representatives. Tell them about our situation…you are your own citizen and they represent you,” said Kedley in closing of the town hall. “We are all in this together.”

Candra Brooks

A native of rural Union County, Candra holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from Simpson College and an Associate's Degree in Accounting from SWCC. She has been at the Osceola newspaper since October 2013, working as office manager before transitioning to the newsroom in spring 2022.