News Feature | August 12, 2016

Iowa Runoff Lawsuit Could Set Precedent For Water Quality Responsibility

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) pledged $150,000 in support of three state agricultural counties — Buena Vista, Calhoun, and Sac — named in a “controversial lawsuit brought by the Des Moines Water Works.”

The lawsuit claims, according to The Huffington Post, that “nitrogen-rich water” coming from the area’s farms is polluting the Raccoon River. The basis of the lawsuit revolves around the water authority wanting the counties to pick up the tab for higher treatment costs while the counties themselves want the case to be dismissed.

If the water authority manages to win the suit, this would mark the first time in the U.S. that “agribusiness is forced to pay for water pollution.”

Kirk Leeds, CEO of ISA, said that the suit is effecting strides that Iowa has made over the past 15 years in runoff solutions such as putting “cover crops and conservation tillage in their fields.”

“The lawsuit does not identify one tangible tactic or strategy that would actually improve water quality,” Leeds told The Huffington Post. “Without the lawsuit, labor and financial resources could be focused on deploying more practices across the state to improve soil and water resources.”

The ISA pointed to over 970,000 acres of Iowa farmers that have enrolled in the federal conservation reserve program.

As The Des Moines Register reported, “the donors picking up 90 percent of the counties’ $1.1 million legal tab are anonymous and likely to remain that way.” This is in part because of state law regulating private foundation contributions to government groups.

The Huffington Post reported that the Iowa lawsuit could alter how the Clean Water Act can be used to address nutrient pollution, which is having an impact on U.S. communities.

John Rumpler, a senior attorney at Environment America, called the suit a “huge, precedent-setting” matter.

Rumpler wrote a report last month connecting “nutrient runoff from agribusiness to the growth of algal blooms and dead zones that have devastated ecosystems and damaged local economies.”

“The overriding story here is that the corporations that are producing our food in an industrializing fashion are now threatening our water,” Rumpler told The Huffington Post. “America should not have to choose between healthy food and safe water.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Nutrient Removal Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Crops  June 13, 2009" Tom  © 2009, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: