A Closer Look: Diana Wilson
General Manager, West Des Moines Water Works
Friday, June 07, 2013 7:00 AM
Education: Degree in civil engineering from Iowa State University
Family: Husband, Marc; children, ages 2 and 6 months; stepson, 12.
After a national search for a general manager, the West Des Moines Water Works board decided it needed to look no farther than within its own ranks. Diana Wilson, a civil engineer who had directed the water utility’s expansion south of Iowa Highway 5, was selected last month to lead the organization. As the first woman to lead the West Des Moines operation and one of the few female water utility general managers in the country, Wilson noted that she was a “bold choice.” She went to work for the utility as a project manager in 2010, and before that she was an environmental engineer for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. She also has worked in the private sector.
Is this path, from project engineer to general manager, one that you created for yourself?
That really wasn’t the path that I had set out when I was in school; I just wanted to be a civil engineer. I think most engineers don’t start out thinking that they are going to be more of a business person than an engineer.
Is this going to be a big switch for you?
It will be a transition because I do enjoy the hands-on, but on the other hand, the hands-on has allowed me to know the issues and to know how they should be handled. So now from an administrative perspective, I can look at issues in the field and the issues with personnel and the issues with growth and development and know when I was in the trenches what the issues were, and now I have broader understanding.
What are the issues?
With our community, we are growing rapidly. We are growing out to the west; we are growing to the south. It is a matter of prioritizing our resources and how we meet those development needs, that we don’t stymie that development but make sure we have responsible policies so that we allow that development and have the capacity to serve that development and balance that with regulatory issues and financial issues.
Do you ever wish that West Des Moines were less of a boomtown?
It’s a good question to have to pose, having development happen at the rate we do is a positive thing, but you really have to be on your toes and know the issues. You always have to be a few steps ahead. It’s a positive thing. It just means that you have to go into every day looking to be proactive.
Do you have concerns about water quality?
As a former regulator, I have a fairly good idea of what is going on and the voluntary measures that are being enacted to try to resolve those problems.
Are we beyond the point of voluntary measures working?
I think further voluntary conservation can be done. I don’t think we fully publicize the need. I think farmers are getting better about conservation. There are more things that can be done. It’s not a black-and-white issue; we’re in an agriculture state and that’s not going to change. It’s something where both sides need to come together to come up with a reasonable solution.
Can you imagine a time when the city would have to look beyond the Jordan Aquifer as its major water source?
That resource is being tapped more and more. To me, it is about being good stewards. Water, as we have seen very recently, is not a commodity that is always there in adequate quantities or quality. The (state) has done aquifer studies, so we need to keep abreast of those results. ... Are we going to continue to use these resources? Do we limit the use of these resources? Do we turn to a surface source water? It’s a balance, making sure that we are dealing with our resources responsibly.
Do you have a set routine when you arrive at the office?
Cup of coffee every morning, turn on my computer and look at email. While I am reading emails, I check my voice messages. I like to clear my bank of those things so that I’m able to move on to broader issues. I like to deal with the questions that might have come in overnight so that I can start fresh with broader issues by 9 or 9:30.
Were you reluctant to go for the general manager position?
It wasn’t reluctance; there never was a part of me that didn’t think I could handle the job and that I could do the job effectively. I’ve been thrilled to be in a position where I could prove myself to the board of trustees. I am a bold choice and I understand that.
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