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46868

Iowa Water Facility Plans Suit Over Ag Nitrate Runoff

On Thursday afternoon, the board of trustees of the Des Moines Water Works will convene to determine whether or not to file a lawsuit against three crop- and livestock-heavy counties in northwest Iowa stemming from high nitrate levels officials allege come from ag runoff in the Raccoon River watershed, one of two primary river watersheds that feed the Des Moines, Iowa, water facility.

Because of high nitrate levels in recent weeks, Des Moines Water Works officials say they've had to run a supplemental water treatment facility to draw the materials out of the water supply at a cost of $7,000 a day, a cost they say they're forced to pass along to the metropolitan area's water customers.

The notice of intent to sue, which is slated for filing on Thursday, cites the Clean Water Act and related Iowa Code against the board of supervisors for Sac, Buena Vista, and Calhoun counties -- all in the Raccoon River watershed northwest of Des Moines -- for their governance of drainage discharge from 10 districts within the counties. The suit is essentially a step toward requiring the governing bodies targeted by the suit to "go through the same permitting process" as others regulating water that's discharged into the system feeding Des Moines Water Works, according to Graham Gillette, member of the Water Works board of trustees.

Gillette tells Agriculture.com the suit isn't something the board wants to do -- he's the first to admit he recognizes the importance of farmers to the state of Iowa and doesn't want to sue farmers -- but it ultimately is a matter of cost containment for the .5 million water customers in central Iowa. The suit is not directed at individual farmers in the targeted counties, rather the county officials charged with managing water runoff and potential pollutants.

Under Iowa law, Des Moines Water Works officials say drainage districts -- which are administered by county boards of supervisors -- are tasked with constructing and maintaining drainage infrastructure, making something like nitrate runoff a county board-level issue. Recent water testing conducted by the U.S. Geologic Survey and validated by the Iowa Soybean Association shows nitrate levels almost four times the level allowed by law in the three counties targeted by the lawsuit, a Des Moines Water Works document shows. The suit, officials say, isn't about making infrastructure changes to production agriculture, rather holding accountable the bodies charged with managing the potential pollutants flowing off agricultural lands.

The Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees is scheduled to convene Thursday afternoon to vote on whether to move forward with the lawsuit. Look for coverage of that decision and more on Agriculture.com.

 

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