Des Moines Water Works will not appeal in federal suit against drainage districts

DES MOINES, Iowa (April 11, 2017) – The Des Moines Water Works will move to resolve its Federal Clean Water case without appeal.  The United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa issued its ruling on March 17, dismissing all of Des Moines Water Works’ claims against the boards of supervisors in Sac County, Buena Vista County and Calhoun County.

In March 2015, Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees filed a federal lawsuit against the Boards of Supervisors in their capacities as trustees of 10 drainage districts. The complaint alleged the named drainage districts are point source polluters as defined by the Clean Water Act and Iowa Code Chapter 455B, and called for the drainage districts take all necessary actions to comply with the Clean Water Act.  In addition, Des Moines Water Works demanded damages in an amount required to compensate for the harm the drainage districts caused by their unlawful discharge of nitrate.

“As an independent water utility, the sole focus of Des Moines Water Works is to provide safe and affordable drinking water to the 500,000 Iowans we serve.  Water quality is an issue that we take very seriously, and the conclusion of the lawsuit will not change that,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and general manager, Des Moines Water Works.  “While many in the agriculture community and state political leadership took issue with the lawsuit, nobody objected to the facts showing drainage districts are polluters.  The risks remain and demand immediate accountability to protect our state.”

The ruling dismissing the case did not dispute the assertion that drainage districts cause water quality problems in the Raccoon River Watershed. Rather, the court indicated that Des Moines Water Works may well have suffered an injury, but the drainage districts lack the legal ability to redress that injury.

According to Stowe, “Policy and law must keep pace as public health and water quality concerns demonstrate both risk and cost to water consumers; that includes 100-year-old Iowa Code dealing with drainage districts and implementation of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy estimates that 92 percent of nitrate in Iowa’s water comes from unregulated sources, namely agriculture, and 8 percent from regulated sources, such as sewer systems. Without proper funding and water quality data to measure progress, the Nutrient Reduction Strategy cannot produce the 45 percent nitrogen reduction goal.  The court’s ruling noted this argument, and concluded these are policy issues the Iowa Legislature should resolve.

“Central Iowa will continue to be burdened with expensive, serious and escalating water pollution problems; the lawsuit was an attempt to protect our ratepayers, whose public health and quality of life continue to be impacted by unregulated industrial agriculture,” said Stowe. “These serious problems have been placed squarely on the shoulders of our state legislators.  The old, business-as-usual, voluntary-only approach will never result in the 45 percent nitrogen reduction.  We hope that, rather than wasting valuable time and resources crafting legislation designed to punish Des Moines Water Works for filing the lawsuit, our legislators can create bold laws that address water pollution.  True source water protection is vital to our customers and community.”

 

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