Des Moines Water Works Lawsuit Delayed05/16/2016
The trial to decide Des Moines Water Works’ lawsuit against three north Iowa counties over high nitrate levels will be delayed until next year, the utility said Friday.
“The rescheduled trial gives Iowans time to carefully consider the need for leadership interested in environmental and public health concerns, while holding agricultural producers responsible,” said Graham Gillette, chairman of Des Moines Water Works board.
“This is particularly important since state leaders failed to take any meaningful actions protecting Iowa water quality in 2016,” Gillette said in a statement.
The case was delayed due to court conflicts and a request to the Iowa Supreme Court to determine whether the drainage districts can be sued for damages.
The trial has been rescheduled to June 26, 2017. It had been scheduled to begin in August.
The Des Moines utility sued Calhoun, Buena Vista and Sac counties a year ago, alleging underground drainage tiles act as conduits that enable high levels of nitrates to move from farm fields into the Raccoon River, one of two sources of drinking water for 500,000 metro area residents.
The utility says it spent about $1.5 million last year to remove nitrates that exceed federal drinking water standards. The utility also says it will need to spend $80 million to upgrade its nitrate removal system over six years.
“Unregulated agricultural discharges into Iowa’s rivers, lakes and streams continue to increase costs to our customer and to damage Iowa’s water quality and environment,” said Bill Stowe, the utility’s CEO.
“The leaders of Iowa’s largest agribusinesses and Iowa’s governmental leadership have argued they need ‘more time’ to address nitrate pollution – a year’s delay will give them a chance to prove whether ‘more time’ can lead to improving Iowa’s water quality, or was just more talk to avoid protecting Iowa’s environment,” Stowe said in a statement.
The counties seek to have the suit dismissed, arguing that the drainage districts being sued contribute little of the high nitrate levels the utility has been forced to remove.
The attorneys also say the Des Moines utility have no authority to require farmers to adopt practices that could reduce nitrates, and that the suit ignores decades of congressional intent and state and federal regulatory enforcement.