Report spotlights state inaction on continually growing problem, failure of nutrient reduction strategy, lack of political will

For Immediate Release 11/14/2019
For more information, contact:
Adam Mason, State Policy Organizing Director
adam@iowacci.org
515-282-0484

Des Moines, IA – Today members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) are pointing to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) release of the 2018 303d list – better knowns as its impaired waters report as evidence the state is failing Iowans when it comes to water quality. The report released this morning, required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is typically released every two years in the Spring.  However, the DNR claimed difficulties during this reporting cycle leading to the release six months later than normal.

The 2018 report found that Iowa’s impaired water bodies has increased to 767, up from 750 two years ago. Upon initial review, Iowa CCI members also flagged several problematic details:

  • Over half of those waterbodies assessed came back with level 4 or level 5 impairments
  • 57% of Iowa’s rivers and streams that were assessed came back as impaired
  • 57% of Iowa’s lakes and reservoirs that were assessed came back as impaired
  • 523 waters are in need of further assessment
  • Only 27 waterways were “delisted” or removed from a level 4 or level 5 impairment
  • Of the impairments identified, a majority are potentially byproducts of industrialized ag practices within the state (i.e. fish kills attributable to manure spills, fertilizer and pesticides; or bacteria levels and algal growth as a symptom of possible farm runoff)

“Today’s report is woefully inadequate and insufficient. Iowans are being hurt physically and financially by the quality of water in Iowa. We need definite numbers to really see the trends in Iowa’s water quality.” Said Betty Salmon, a retired teacher and Iowa CCI member from Urbandale, IA.

Iowa’s primary strategy for improving water quality has been the Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS), adopted in 2013 to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loading in Iowa’s waterways. However, when it comes to nonpoint sources of nutrient pollution – industrial agricultural operations and practices being one of the main examples – the strategy is merely voluntary.

This voluntary NRS has been proven to be a complete failure and according to a report from the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC), the state is hundreds, possibly even thousands of years behind where we should be to reduce Iowa’s contribution to the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. 

“This is one more sign that the state’s nutrient reduction strategy is a complete failure. The report fails to differentiate the magnitude of impairments in many of Iowa’s waterways. But the reality is that any impairment is unacceptable.” said Cherie Mortice, retired teacher and Iowa CCI member from Des Moines. “That’s why are suing the state – every Iowan has a right to clean water and the state has a duty to protect that right.”

Earlier this year, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa because the Legislature has failed to take Iowa’s water pollution crisis seriously. The groups’ lawsuit alleges that the state has violated its obligation under the Public Trust Doctrine to protect the Raccoon River for the use and benefit of all Iowans by failing to limit the pollution running off industrial agriculture operations into the Raccoon River and its tributaries.

The lawsuit asks the Court to order the state to adopt a mandatory clean-plan and a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms – the main contributors to the elevated nitrogen and phosphorus pollution found in the water. The groups are represented by Public Justice, Food & Water Watch, Roxanne Conlin & Associates, and Channing Dutton, of Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake LLP.

In spite of the mounting demand for action on water, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to tout her investment in the failed NRS. Recent Iowa Policy Project reports show her claims ring untrue as well, with the level of water quality funding being lower than it was ten years ago in terms of real dollars.

“We know that DNR is overworked and understaffed. They want to do a good job, and care about our natural resources.” said Tom Mohan, Iowa CCI board president from Sioux City. “This is really a question of political will. We call on Governor Reynolds and the Legislature to provide all Iowans the clean water we demand and deserve.”

Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment leads the fight back against corporate ag in the heartland

July 11, 2019 – In state capitals across the Midwest, opposition to legislation pushed by corporate agriculture lobbyists to favor factory farms continues to grow. The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE), made up of rural-based, family farm membership groups in Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota and Missouri, organized to hold factory farms and legislators accountable for the harm these operations do to independent family farmers, rural communities, and our water and air.

In each state, family farmers, local elected representatives and citizens, both rural and urban, stood up and acted against factory farm lobbyists and their attempts to pass laws that fuel the industrialization and corporate control of livestock markets, while eroding protections from factory farms:

In Minnesota, the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) successfully beat back a series of efforts by the industry to tilt the playing field toward factory farms by weakening permitting requirements and environmental review of factory farms. Also, though it didn’t pass, LSP built legislative support to repeal the manure lagoon property tax exemption and to reinstate a Citizens’ Board, a powerful tool that would require a public environmental review of factory farms. LSP also won a series of policies that support independent family farmers protecting the land, including additional money for the Forever Green Initiative that helps develop markets for cover crops and perennials; boosts resources for Farm-to-School programs that benefit farmers, kids and rural communities; and increases funding for meat and poultry inspection that is important for independent meat processors and small- and medium-sized livestock farmers who sell directly to consumers.

In Missouri, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center organized a major fight to protect county level, local control over regulating corporate factory farms. Because state protections are almost non-existent, 20 rural counties in Missouri have passed health ordinances that enact common sense safeguards to protect communities from pollution, health impacts and environmental damage caused by corporate-controlled CAFOs. After an enormous fight, the state legislature ultimately passed a bill that strips counties of the right to pass new health ordinances. As part of the campaign, MRCC engaged tens of thousands of Missourians who contacted their legislators to stop this attack on their right to protect their property, air and water and communities from the negative impacts of corporate industrial agriculture. 

“This campaign was about more than protecting Local Control,” said MRCC. “It was focused on undue corporate influence on our government and democratic process, and the negative impacts of factory farms on family farms, rural communities, water and air, and our food system. This example, the taking of local control from our rural counties, shows how willfully out-of-touch our Governor and state legislature are with Missourians from every corner of the state. CAFOs make up only 1/2 of 1% of Missouri’s farming operations, around 500 out of nearly 100,000. Our elected representatives should work to protect the majority of farm families and rural Missourians, instead of a small number of corporate-controlled CAFOs.” MRCC is continuing to organize around the enormous power built during this campaign. 

MRCC also successfully defeated a bill to ban local elected representatives from inspecting corporate CAFOs to enforce local ordinances; and forced a vote on the House floor on an amendment to stop foreign corporate ownership of Missouri farmland

In Iowa, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement built legislative support for two major bills challenging the factory farm industry. One, called for a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms. Iowa currently has over 10,000 factory farms and over 750 impaired waterways. A moratorium would put a halt on the construction of factory farms so Iowa could address the factory farm and clean water crisis in the state. CCI organized to get 20 legislative sponsors/supporters in the House and 5 in the Senate. Another bill closed a tax law loophole that makes factory farm manure pits exempt from property taxation. This preferential property tax treatment shifts the property tax burden onto neighboring small farmers and rural residents. Through a fiscal impact statement, CCI uncovered that at least $4.5 million dollars in revenue are lost through this property tax exemption. If the bill had passed this funding could have been used for infrastructure, education, hospitals or other public entities. Both bills were blocked by Republican leadership despite growing momentum for a moratorium and changes to the factory farm industry. CCI also campaigned against a factory farm industry-backed revised Ag-gag bill, designed to intimidate employees and neighbors of factory farms from exposing unsafe working conditions, animal abuse, and environmental violations. While the law passed, CCI joined a lawsuit with the ACLU and other allies challenging this new bill in the court system. CCI, along with Food and Water Watch and Public Justice, also filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa in the fight for clean water.

In South Dakota, Dakota Rural Action (DRA) beat back a pair of bills pushed by CAFO backers designed to use public money to incentivize counties to approve new CAFOs. One bill would have allowed up to $200,000 of the contractor’s excise tax (2% on all materials and labor) levied on CAFO construction or improvements to be given to the school district in which the CAFO was built. DRA helped stop the bill, making the case that this would give CAFO investors additional leverage in the permitting process, and this was not the way to fund public education. DRA also helped stop a second tax diversion bill that would have given 50% of all taxes levied during construction or remodeling of a CAFO to the county in which it is located. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development has now started an incentive program strangely similar to these tax diversion bills, which promises counties excise tax kickbacks if they approve CAFOs. DRA is fighting that program county by county. DRA also worked successfully with members on the ground to pass a moratorium on new CAFOs in several South Dakota counties. 

The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE) consists of four Midwest state-based membership organizations and two national organizations fighting against corporate factory farms. CFFE works to oppose national, state and local policies propping up corporate factory farms and damaging independent family farmers, extracting wealth from our rural communities, and polluting our land, water and air. CFFE helps citizens organize and defend local control, preserve the use of public resources for the public good, and apply more democratic decision-making.CFFE is composed of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Dakota Rural Action, Land Stewardship Project, Food & Water Watch, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Governor Reynolds spending less on water quality improvement measures, while nutrient pollution from industrial agriculture isn’t getting any better

An Iowa Policy Project (IPP) report released yesterday echoes the state’s own March 2019 progress report showing that Iowa’s voluntary nutrient reduction strategy is insufficient to protect water in Iowa or downstream. The report calls out the state legislature for failing to create any meaningful steps to clean up Iowa’s water crisis.

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI), who recently filed a lawsuit against the state in the fight for clean water, say this new report adds to the mounting evidence that the voluntary nutrient reduction strategy is not helping nutrient pollution get any better.

The report shows that total state spending on water quality has rapidly declined over the last three years. In 2018 Governor Reynolds signed a bill she touted as increasing funding for water quality. In reality though the state is still spending less than before the voluntary nutrient reduction strategy was even created.

 “Governor Reynolds and Republican leadership claim that more money is going to fund nutrient pollution clean-up, but the reality is they are spending less on water quality than before the nutrient reduction strategy was created,” said Cherie Mortice an Iowa CCI member from Polk County. “It’s no secret that the levers of power in the state have been out of whack for a long time. They have continually put the profits of corporate ag over our water, our air, and our quality of life.”

As funding for water quality improvement has decreased, factory farms – a known non-point source polluter – continue to expand at an alarming rate. One in four counties in Iowa have passed resolutions calling for change to this corporate controlled, polluting system of agriculture.

Iowa has over 10,000 factory farms and each year another 200-400 factory farms are built – a number that is anticipated to increase as the Prestage slaughterhouse comes online.

 “The increase in factory farms each year is directly related to the diminished and dangerous quality of our water,” said Barb Kalbach, an Iowa CCI member and 4th generation farmer from Adair County,“They produce over 22 billion gallons of toxic liquid manure each year, that is spread untreated across Iowa and ultimately makes it way to our waterways.”

“If the nutrient reduction strategy remains voluntary and factory farms keep going up Iowa’s water crisis isn’t going to get any better,” said Adam Mason, State Policy Director at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, “We need mandatory measures and a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms if we want to see any improvement in the over 750 impaired waterways we have in the state.”

In March, Iowa CCI along with Food & Water Watch and Public Justice, filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa for failure to protect our right to clean water. The game changing lawsuit is calling for a mandatory nutrient reduction strategy and a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms.

“Iowan’s are tired of being told that our interests – our water, our health, our enjoyment of public waters, our drinking water, our pocketbook – must be compromised or balanced with those of corporate ag and other industries willing to destroy our lives for a profit,” said Mason, “Our lawsuit is holding our state to a higher standard – for us, for our kids, and for our grandkids.”

For Immediate Release: March 27, 2019

Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, drakestraw@fwwatch.org, 202-683-2467

Adam Mason, adam@iowacci.org, 515-282-0484

Aidan O’Shea, aoshea@publicjustice.net, 202-861-5240

Suit alleges state of Iowa is failing to protect its waterways from factory farms

Follow along on our Facebook livestream as we announce the lawsuit

Des Moines, IA – Today, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa claiming that the state has violated its obligation to protect the Raccoon River for the use and benefit of all Iowans.

This obligation is called the Public Trust Doctrine, which requires the state to protect the public’s use and not abdicate control to private interests. With well documented water pollution and only voluntary agricultural pollution controls, the suit alleges that the state is failing to uphold its duty. The groups are represented by Public Justice, Food & Water Watch, Roxanne Conlin & Associates, and Channing Dutton, of Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake LLP.

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch gathered at the Capitol building in Des Moines today to demand accountability for the failure of the state to uphold its duty to protect the Raccoon River, particularly from factory farm pollution.

“Iowans are tired of being told that our interests – our water, our health, our enjoyment of public waters, our drinking water, our pocketbooks – must be compromised or balanced with those of corporate ag and other industries willing to destroy our lives for profit,” said Adam Mason, State Policy Director at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, “Our lawsuit is holding the state to a higher standard – for us, for our kids, and our grandkids.”

Emma Schmit of Food & Water Watch said, “There is a well-known, statewide water crisis in Iowa, and the Raccoon River in Polk County has been particularly harmed by pollution from factory farms. The Raccoon River runs through one of the most intensely farmed areas of the United States, where runoff from animal manure and fertilizer poses a threat to tap water and recreational use of the river. Once again, the legislature has failed to take any action on water quality, so the citizens of Iowa have stood up to say enough is enough.”

The Raccoon River is the source of drinking water for some 500,000 Iowans. Des Moines Water Works, the largest water utility in Iowa, has one of the most expensive nitrate removal systems in the world. The utility’s struggle to provide safe drinking water to Des Moines residents was documented in its 2015 lawsuit against upstream counties alleging that their failure to regulate tile drains led to excessive amounts of dangerous nitrates in the utility’s Raccoon River source water.

A bill to establish a moratorium on new and expanded factory farms was introduced in the Iowa Senate and House of Representatives during the 2019 session. Despite growing concern from citizens and an increasing number of legislative sponsors, leadership in the Iowa General Assembly refused to allow the bill to even be debated in subcommittee, and the bill died in the first funnel on March 8. No bills to address the factory farm or water quality crises remain alive in this legislative session.

Roxanne Conlin of Roxanne Conlin & Associates said, “Iowans have waited patiently for our elected officials to fix our state’s polluted public waters. As it is clear those elected do not have the willpower to take any substantive action, every day Iowans are now turning to the courts to make Iowa’s waters clean and to protect their ability to enjoy the many outdoor activities that so many Iowans hold dear.”

“The State of Iowa has an obligation to protect the public’s use of the Raccoon River,” said Brent Newell, Food Project Attorney at Public Justice. “Farmers know what practices work for their farms, communities, and the environment. But we are clearly seeing that voluntary compliance does not work in a system controlled by corporate agriculture. Iowans need a system that empowers Iowa’s farmers to be the solution and restores rural communities economically.”

This lawsuit is a response to Iowa’s failed leadership, which has allowed the agribusiness industry to degrade Iowa’s waterways, leaving citizens with the burden of pollution and the cost of cleanup efforts. The suit seeks actionable, mandatory solutions that will restore the Raccoon River and make it safe for people to recreate in and for those who rely on it for drinking water.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement works to empower and unite grassroots people of all ethnic backgrounds to take control of their communities; involve them in identifying problems and needs and in taking action to address them; and be a vehicle for social, economic, and environmental justice.

Food & Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.

Public Justice pursues high impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice, protect the Earth’s sustainability, and challenge predatory corporate conduct and government abuses.

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You can get involved by helping to support this case. Chip in $5, $10, $15 today!

As you know, legal action isn’t cheap. And, the Farm Bureau is going to come out swinging.

That’s why we’re asking you to dig deep. DONATE TODAY. Whatever you can give will fund the legal work, and help us the counter corporate ag’s misinformation at every turn.  

We’ll keep you updated as this case develops.

They dump it, you drink it, we won’t stop till they clean it up! 

Compared to zero in the last three years, members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement are worried about what this means for Iowa’s water crisis

Des Moines, IA – The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has issued 110 “emergency exemptions” allowing factory farms to dump untreated liquid manure and raw feces onto snow covered ground over the past three months. That compares to zero in each of the last years and only 15 in 2014. The winter manure ban is in place because spreading manure on snow covered or frozen ground leads to hog manure contaminating Iowa’s waterways.

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) are worried about what this means for Iowa’s already polluted water as the spring thaw,heavy rainfall, and floods hit the state.

“When the snow melts, it drains off into our waterways, and so does everything that was spread on top of it. That includes the untreated liquid manure from these corporate-owned hogs,” said Barb Kalbach, retired nurse, 4th generation family farmer, and Iowa CCI member. “We already have 750 impaired waterways, and this is not going to help make it better.”

According to the DNR, weather conditions have left factory farm manure pits nearly full. The record number of “emergency” exemptions mean that Iowa’s already polluted water is more susceptible to pollution from factory farm manure.

“Last summer my family and I tried to go swimming at a public beach, but when we arrived there was a sign posted saying the water was too polluted to swim in. With 110 “emergency exemptions” it doesn’t look like water quality is going to improve this next summer,” said Kristyn Arnold, an Iowa CCI member, “The only emergency is the impact that factory farm and industrial agriculture pollution is having on our water in Iowa.”

Currently the state of Iowa is using the nutrient reduction strategy to combat pollution from factory farms and industrial agriculture. The program uses public dollars and is voluntary, meaning that corporate Ag can decide if and how much they would like to participate in the clean up of Iowa’s water ways.

“The factory farm industry claims to be a 112 billion dollar industry. They have the money, they made the mess, and they should be responsible for cleaning it up,” said Brenda Brink, a retired dietitian and Iowa CCI member, “Why are we using public dollars to clean up a mess these giant corporations made?”

Rep. Dean Fisher from House District 72 is single-handedly blocking our moratorium bill, H.F. 203. That’s not right!

Thousand of Iowans are calling for a moratorium and 25 counties have passed resolutions calling for a moratorium, local control, or stronger permitting standards. We know people want change.

Still, Fisher is refusing to assign this bill a sub-committee.A sub-committee would allow for debate, discussion and public input.

Iowans deserve to see this bill discussed and a chance to weigh in. If Fisher does not assign the bill to a sub-committee it will die next Friday, March 8.

Give Rep. Fisher a call at (888) 724-8946!