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Wellmark Stops "Going to the Well" To Flush

The new headquarters building for Wellmark does all it can to not go to the well for flushing toilets. Actually, they don't have a well, but get their water from the Des Moines Waterworks like everyone else. The LEED platinum building reduces water consumption by nearly 7,200 gallons of water per day or 2,600,000 gallons water per year!  That’s enough to fill four Olympic sized swimming pools.

Wellmark beats the water consumption of the typical office building by using more efficient toilets and urinals than you normally see. The toilets, for instance, have dual flushing buttons with two choices: Number one and number two for you know what. Even with all that, it still takes nearly 8,000 gallons per day for the 2,400 full time equivalent employees to flush.

The other means to reduce water consumption is the unique water reclamation system. The system has two basic components; one for flushing and one for lawn irrigation. Water comes from roof drains, condensation from air conditioning equipment, and water beneath the surface collected in foundation drainage tiles. The water is piped to pre-filters on the way to a 52,000-gallon flushing cistern. Overflow from the pre-filters and flushing cistern is routed to the 60,000-gallon irrigation cistern.

Water in the flushing cistern then travels into the building where it is pumped through several stages of treatment before discharging to a 3,000-gallon day tank. Treatment steps include additional filtering to remove sediment and clarify water, UV lights to kill bacteria and an ozone system to kill additional bacteria and remove odors from the water. The day tank holds all the water that will be sent to the toilets and urinals. Additional domestic water can supplement the reclaim water should there be a need.  

Water in the irrigation cistern goes through a similar treatment process on its way to the irrigation day tank with the exception of the ozone treatment.

Dave Southwell, executive vice president of Wellmark, says the system is working as intended and Wellmark is committed to saving natural resources.                       

When you look at the payback for water reclamation systems, it doesn’t make sense unless you make a commitment to be good stewards of the environment like Wellmark. The reason the payback takes a really long time is the cost of water in the Midwest is so low compared to other parts of the country. Other parts of the country pay nearly six times more for water than in Iowa, and rationing is sometimes necessary.

Just imagine if everyone cared as deeply as Wellmark! The Des Moines Waterworks would treat less water and there would be much less flooding because buildings would hold on to their water for use later rather than send it all down the storm sewer.  


Most people in Iowa have no idea how lucky we are to have abundant and cheap water. It's one of the reasons we have the lowest cost of doing business.

How much water would not go into the storm sewers if Water Works or Metro Waste could come up with a way to provide every metro homeowner with one or two affordable rainbarrels to collect snow melt and rain? The cost of the barrels for the homeowners could be offset by a decrease in water and sewer usage on their water bills and give homeowners a reservoir of water for gardening during the dry spells of summer and fall.

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