DMWW notes formation of IA Partnership for Clean Water by Farm Bureau

DES MOINES, Iowa (May 14, 2015) – This week, the Iowa Farm Bureau helped form another political partnership to advance a paid public relations campaign, while Des Moines Water Works continues to operate its nitrate removal facility to keep finished drinking water safe for consumption. Des Moines Water Works remains committed to protecting Iowans interests by seeking the implementation of regulations to safeguard the waters of the state.

On Monday, the Iowa Partnership for Clean Water was announced with a goal of broadening the understanding of agriculture and advocating the voluntary approaches outlined in Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The 501(c)(4)organization lists Iowa Farm Bureau general counsel as its registered agent, and names the Iowa Farm Bureau office in West Des Moines as its registered office. Public documents show that LS2 Group, a Des Moines marketing firm, purchased over $157,000 in television advertisement placements in the Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Quad Cities markets.

“No matter how often it runs, no television advertisement will help solve Iowa’s serious water pollution problem,” said Graham Gillette, chairman of the board of Water Works trustees.  “Only after years of seeking a fair hearing from state leaders in an effort to stem the growing financial costs and health risks of Iowa’s polluted water did Des Moines Works seek action in Federal Court. This latest political maneuvering by the Iowa Farm Bureau clearly demonstrates it is more interested in funding a political effort than it is in engaging in meaningful, problem-solving conversation.”

Des Moines Water Works recently filed a federal court complaint against the boards of supervisors of Sac County, Buena Vista County, and Calhoun County, in their capacities as trustees of 10 drainage districts, for the discharge of nitrate pollutants into the Raccoon River. Artificial subsurface drainage system infrastructure, such as that created and managed by government drainage districts named, is the most significant source of nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River watershed.

“More partnerships and alliances have been created than reasonable attempts towards a solution. While Des Moines Water Works appreciates this new partnership’s acknowledgment that Iowa has a nitrate problem, we are troubled by their position rejecting agriculture’s accountability for that problem and lack of urgency for immediate solutions,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and general manager, Des Moines Water Works.

The new partnership, along with state and industry leaders, continue to insist the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is working.  Des Moines Water Works believes the science behind the Nutrient Reduction Strategy is essentially sound; however, underlying erroneous legal conclusions, as well as political considerations which reject any and all regulation of agriculture, have rendered it totally ineffective.

As applicable to agriculture, the strategy lacks timelines, standards, mandatory actions, monitoring, and funding. The strategy states over 90 percent of Iowa’s nutrient problem is attributed to agriculture. Yet, instead of regulating practices to reduce agricultural nutrients; the strategy relies on voluntarism; while the sewer and storm water utilities of Iowa cities, which make up only 8 percent of the nutrient problem, are heavily regulated.

“While this lawsuit will impose some cost, it does not compare to the approximately $183 million the new water treatment facility funded by rate payers that may be needed to keep drinking water safe,” said Gillette. “Unlike the expenditures being made by the Iowa Farm Bureau’s political partnership, Des Moines Water Work’s legal action is aimed at solving Iowa’s water crises. It is time for agriculture to be held accountable for its impact on Iowa’s waters. No Iowan should lose confidence in his or her right to safe drinking water or bear burdensome costs from agriculture activity upstream.”

Since the launch of the state-lauded Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Des Moines Water Works has experienced two unprecedented nitrate episodes and associated costs for the treatment of the pollutant. In 2013, when nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers reached record highs on each river, Des Moines Water Works incurred approximately $900,000 in treatment costs and lost revenues. On December 4, 2014, the utility began operating the nitrate removal facility continuously for 97 days – unprecedented in the winter months – for a total of $540,000 in operations and additional expenses.

After a brief break, the denitrification units were re-started on April 17, and remain in operation today.  Moreover, continued high nitrate concentrations in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers will require future capital investments to remove the pollutant and provide safe drinking water to a growing central Iowa.

“Des Moines Water Works remains committed, first and foremost, to protecting Iowa’s water by holding agriculture accountable for environmental protection like any other activity. We hope this objective can be reached short of prolonged litigation through honest collaboration, including compromise by moving beyond talking to specific and reliable actions protecting Iowa’s water quality,” said Stowe.

 

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