Meet “Water Lou” Elbert

“Water Lou” Elbert, Indianola’s Water Superintendent, got his nickname in 2002 from then-police chief Steve Bonnet during a city staff meeting, who sort of said it by accident. No surprise, it stuck. Lou laughs about it now. “I’m the only one left from that team, but somehow the name still comes up now and then!”

A Native Son

Lou is Indianola-born and raised. He grew up here and has lived on the city’s east side with his wife for over 35 years. They share a love of spending time with their four grandsons and stay busy with family life, but try to sneak in a round of golf and a little traveling when time allows. 

It’s been a good life so far, and that includes the 41 years Lou has been with the water department at IMU. “I have been very lucky,” says Lou. “I’ve enjoyed all the different phases of my job.” 

In 1979, Lou was a 19-year old kid looking for a career. He wanted to work both outdoors and indoors, in a field where he could learn and grow. The IMU water department fit the bill. Over time, Lou went to school at Simpson College and DMACC nights and weekends while raising his family and working at the utility full time. He passed the required examinations to run a water treatment facility, and learned everything else he needed to know on the job. In 2001, the Water Superintendent position opened; Lou applied and got the promotion.

“IMU has always worked hard to promote from within” says Chris DesPlanques, IMU’s General Manager. “We’ve been fortunate that a lot of talented people who start with us right out of school want to stay in the community and grow their careers here.”

The utility had recently completed a brand new water treatment facility when Lou came on, so just a few years later when the need for a new well was identified, it was a hard sell. Lou’s idea was to use a section of the existing control room for the well’s mechanicals and drill the well right next to the plant. The board approved his cost-conscious yet effective plan, and he still feels good about how everyone was able to come together, think flexibly, and keep up with the needs of Indianola residents. 

A Dedicated Professional

While Indianola enjoys some of the lowest water rates in Iowa, quality and safety always come first. “Constant upgrades are needed to run the water utility safely and effectively, and I’m glad to work with our board, because at the end of the day they understand that and we work together to make sure we do what’s needed.” 

In 2006, Lou received the Honor Roll Award from the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities for his service and dedication to excellence. He shies from the credit, instead pointing to his staff, saying simply, “we are a dedicated group.”

Lou is proud of his water department and the quality of service it provides in maintaining the complex infrastructure needed to supply the community with water for homes, businesses, and agriculture. Not every place, he notes, is as lucky. “Infrastructure needs across the nation have become a much bigger issue. Aging water mains are out of sight, out of mind - and that’s not good. Like other aspects of our national infrastructure - roads, bridges, railroads, the electrical grid, broadband, and others - they are expensive to maintain and replace, and too often they remain a low priority until there’s a big problem. I’m fortunate that our utility doesn’t have that mindset. Here, when something needs to be addressed, we do it. It gives me peace of mind knowing I have the tools to do my job and give great service at fair prices to the Indianola community.”