Two Groups File Iowa Water Quality Lawsuit

The lawsuit filed by the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch claims the state of Iowa has failed to protect the Raccoon River.

Another water quality lawsuit has been filed in Iowa. The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) and Food & Water Watch filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa.

The lawsuit claims Iowa has violated its obligation to protect the Raccoon River for the use and benefit of all Iowans.

This obligation is called the Public Trust Doctrine, which requires the state to protect the public’s use and not abdicate control to private interests, according to an ICCI press release. The suit alleges that the state is failing to uphold its duty, according to the press release. The groups are represented by Public Justice, Food & Water Watch, Roxanne Conlin & Associates, and Channing Dutton, of Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake LLP.

“Iowans are tired of being told that our interests – our water, our health, our enjoyment of public waters, our drinking water, our pocketbooks – must be compromised or balanced with those of corporate ag and other industries willing to destroy our lives for profit,” said Adam Mason, ICCI state policy director in an ICCI press release. “Our lawsuit is holding the state to a higher standard – for us, for our kids, and our grandkids.”

The Raccoon River is the source of drinking water for some 500,000 Iowans, the ICCI said. Des Moines Water Works (DMWW), the largest water utility in Iowa, has one of the most expensive nitrate removal systems in the world, according to the ICCI press release. The ICCI says the utility’s struggle to provide safe drinking water to Des Moines residents was documented in its 2015 lawsuit against upstream counties alleging that their failure to regulate tile drains led to excessive amounts of dangerous nitrates in the utility’s Raccoon River source water. 

In January 2017, though, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against the DMWW in its attempt to pursue damage payments in its lawsuit against three Iowa County Boards of Supervisors. The northern Iowa counties were Calhoun, Buena Vista, and Sac counties

One of the points in the ruling stated: “The least-cost avoider for removing nitrates from drinking water may well be the DMWW, which already bears the statutory obligation to provide safe water for its customers under the Safe Drinking Water Act and its Amendments, 42 U.S.C. 300f-300j. The DMWW does not claim otherwise and, indeed, itself at times has lawfully deposited back into the Raccoon River the very nitrates it removed.”

Another statement in the ruling: “It makes sense to limit litigation between public entities because the people of Iowa foot the bill for both sides. That is why the legislature enacted Iowa Code section 679A.19 to prohibit litigation between state departments, boards, and commissions.”

What Ag Groups Say 

“Iowa farmers are aware of the role we play in our state’s quality of life. This includes the water we share. By implementing Iowa’s nutrient reduction strategy, we embrace the best science and rely on years of experience to collaborate in results that are better for our water,” stated Curt Mether, a farmer from Logan, Iowa, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) in an ICGA news release. “Farmers will continue to work together to achieve the best long-term solutions for our soil and water while feeding the world.

“At a time when farmers are struggling financially and also from historic flooding, this lawsuit is a low blow to farmers,” continued Mether in the ICGA news release. “It will divert resources from implementing conservation practices and helping our farmers recover from the latest natural disaster.”

The ICGA has partnered with farmers and agricultural stakeholder in projects targeted at improving water quality for all Iowans such as the National Corn Growers Association’s Soil Health Partnership and Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, the release said. 

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