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Federal Judge Dismisses Des Moines Water Works' Lawsuit
Iowa Ag Connection - 03/20/2017

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Des Moines Water Works against several upstream agriculture drainage districts, dismissing the utility's claims and stating that the Iowa Legislature is the appropriate body to address the state's water quality crisis.

Bill Stowe, chief executive officer and general manager of Des Moines Water Works, told KCCI that he's disappointed with the decision but expressed congratulations to the Farm Bureau and its allies which opposed the lawsuit.

"We are disappointed in the ruling and the court's unwillingness to recognize the profound water quality impacts that pollution from drainage districts has on Iowa waterways," he said. "Perhaps the state legislature should now spend its time addressing meaningful, long-term, sustainably-funded policy solutions to our serious water problems instead of meddling in affairs best left to local communities."

Stowe said the company will consider options for continued water quality protection in the state and understands the bureau's position.

The water utility for 500,000 Iowans alleged the three counties -- Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun -- that oversee 10 agricultural drainage districts should be required to obtain federal water pollution discharge permits and pay the utility more than $1.4 million it has spent for increased filtration methods to remove the nitrates from water.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey praised the judge's decision, saying, "The dismissal of this lawsuit is very welcome news and takes away an unnecessary distraction from the collaborative efforts underway to improve water quality in Iowa. Iowa farmers, landowners, cities, businesses, homeowners and many other partners are taking on the challenge of improving water quality and we are seeing exciting results. There is still a lot of work to be done, but I truly believe that by working together, we can make big strides.

"Since the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was released in 2012, we have worked hard to reach out to farmers and all Iowans to encourage them to try one new thing to address water quality. We remain committed to building on the momentum that has been established and continuing to advance our collaborative, research based approach to address this important issue," Northey said.

Iowa Corn Growers Association President Kurt Hora said, "This is good news for our state. The lawsuit has been a distraction to the implementation of Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which was started in 2013. This favorable outcome will allow Iowa farmers to continue to advance our efforts of improving soil and water conservation without the inflexibility of burdensome regulations.

"As farmers, we want the safest, best quality water for Iowa. We believe a positive, collaborative approach is key to improving our state's water quality. The Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) and our farmer-members will continue to use cooperation and collaboration in proactively improving our water quality. Through our work with the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, the Soil Health Partnership and our many other partnerships, activities, and programs, we are helping accelerate the adoption of practices outlined in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy," Hora said.

Hora said people can get more information on how Iowa Corn is leading the way on water quality at www.iowacorn.org/water.

The Iowa Supreme Court in January upheld a legal doctrine going back 100 years in Iowa that allows agriculture drainage districts to maintain immunity from lawsuits seeking monetary damages.

The Water Works board of trustees will review its options.

Gov. Terry E. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds also released statements.

"I'm pleased to see an end to this costly litigation brought about by the Des Moines Water Works. From the very beginning, we've attempted to work in a collaborative way with our partners in the field and our communities to improve water quality in Iowa. That's the Iowa way. Now, we can finally put this distraction behind us and focus on the full implementation of the nutrient reduction strategy," the Governor said.

Reynolds said, "The dismissal of this lawsuit is very welcome news for our farmers, small businesses and communities across Iowa. We've believed all along that this lawsuit was not only the wrong approach, but would hinder the positive progress we've made by working collaboratively in addressing water quality through the nutrient reduction strategy. We look forward to continuing our conversation with the Legislature in the weeks ahead to finalize a plan that will continue to grow our water quality efforts."

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