Iowa Farmers Won a Water Pollution Lawsuit, But at What Cost?

Iowa Farmers Won a Water Pollution Lawsuit, But at What Cost?.
That leaves Des Moines Water Works, the utility that filed the lawsuit, and farmers in almost exactly the same place they were before they went to court: The utility faces bigger bills to remove farming-related chemicals from the Raccoon River, its source of drinking water, and the farmers still aren’t required to reduce pollution from their farms.
“The court’s ruling noted that this policy issue is left up to the Iowa legislature to resolve, but it didn’t happen this year, so we’re disappointed in that,” says Laura Sarcone, a spokeswoman for the Des Moines Water Works.
In Iowa, 92 percent of them are found in rivers and lakes and came from agriculture and other unregulated sources.
Meanwhile, the two Republican-controlled chambers of the legislature couldn’t agree on how to improve water quality, even though it was a top priority for outgoing Gov.
Kim Reynolds, who will succeed Branstad, said water quality “will continue to be a priority of mine” in next year’s legislative session.
The soybean association and the Des Moines Water Works do agree on at least one thing: the need for more data on water quality to be collected and published.
The utility, of course, is keeping close tabs on the level of nitrates in the Raccoon River.
Heavy rains have diluted the nitrates, and Des Moines only used its nitrate-removal system 65 days last year.
In May 2016, the level of nitrogen in the Gulf of Mexico was 12 percent higher than the average over the previous 25 years.

Des Moines Water Works won’t appeal lawsuit

Kelsey Kremer/The Register Des Moines Water Works will not appeal a federal judge’s decision to dismiss the utility’s lawsuit against 10 northern Iowa drainage districts over high nitrate levels in the Raccoon River. The Water Works Board of Trustees unanimously made the decision Tuesday, ending a more-than-two-year legal battle. “Central Iowa will continue to be burdened with expensive, serious and escalating water pollution problems,” Water Works CEO Bill Stowe said in a news release. “The lawsuit was an attempt to protect our ratepayers, whose public health and quality of life continue to be impacted by unregulated industrial agriculture.” Des Moines Water Works filed a federal lawsuit in March 2015, claiming drainage districts in Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties were funneling high levels of nitrates into the Raccoon River, a source of drinking water for 500,000 central Iowa residents. The board agreed to spend $1.35 million to pursue the lawsuit. “The board views these resources would be better spent finding other avenues to pursue environmental protection rather than legal action, like trying to affect public policy through lobbying,” Stowe said. The lawsuit contended that drainage tiles used to make farmland more productive were short-circuiting natural conditions that otherwise keep nitrates from entering streams and rivers. The utility sought damages and penalties for the costs it incurred removing nitrates from central Iowa drinking water. Water Works said it spent $1.2 million to operate its nitrate removal equipment in 2015. It also sought to have…