Letter from the Editor

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Time for a water plant partnership

I think it's grand that the IBP and Bil-Mar plants in Storm Lake stepped up and offered some technical assistance to try to do a temporary fix on the water plant - when it became obvious that the problem was getting serious enough to shut down their plants.

IBP also assisted in tracking down replacement filters to allow for temporary repairs at the water plant - once a shortage of water idled part of the plant's operation late last week. The city has expressed its gratitude to the companies, as it well should.

This is just the kind of cooperative, can-do situation the community needs between local government and the major employers. It paid off for us all, and quickly.

It should perhaps concern us, however, that it took a major crisis to get such cooperation going.

While we add our thanks to the city's for what the meatpackers contributed to the temporary repairs at the water plant, we also haven't forgotten some of the reasons we are in perpetual trouble in treated water supply to begin with.

The water plant dates to the late 1970s, and has been pushed to its maximum and beyond during each of the past several summers, resulting in water conservation limits - on the public - for the last couple of years.

A multi-million-dollar plant upgrade was all planned, but it fell apart earlier this year - with the failure of the city's agreement with IBP and Bil-Mar that had been 16 months in the making.

Those same companies that are eager to help when their operations are threatened, could have played a big role in preventing such problems in Storm Lake.

Certainly, there are likely good reasons why the companies backed away from the agreement. And there may be bad feelings over the city's resulting decision to raise industrial water rates. Whatever the problems may be, it's time to get past them now and get the long-term problems of the plant cooperatively addressed before we see another "crisis."

The original city plan had the two major industries paying about half the cost for the $6.9 million project, and thus ensuring the supply of water they need for operations well into the future.

That sounds like an awful lot to expect from private enterprise, but in light of the facts, it is not so out of line.

Truth is, the two packing plants use more of the city's water resources than all the rest of the community combined - quite a bit more. About 60 percent of the water plant's total capacity is needed for use by IBP and Bil-Mar, according to city figures.

Without the plants, even in its crippled state, the water plant would have been meeting the basic needs of the residences and the rest of the business community, according to the mayor.

As one council member said long before this crisis, the two companies that played a major role in wearing out water plant equipment perhaps could be expected to help pay for replacing it.

Of course, the industries pay their prescribed share of the cost according to what they use, just like the rest of us. They are not to blame for the plant's shortfalls, for a failing filter, for bone dry weather, or for those unfortunate resulting rules against the little homeowner watering his lawn or washing his car. Applying blame to anyone would be useless and counter-productive, and that is not my purpose here.

IBP and Bil-Mar, like the rest of us, can learn from this summer's experience. If they have played a role bringing the water plant back on line, they deserve our thanks. And now, we should all expect the two major industries and the city to go back to the negotiation table with a renewed sense of the importance of a mutually-beneficial agreement. No one wants a repeat of this crisis. It's time to seal that water deal.