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!

Every year county supervisors need to pass and submit the Master Matrix resolution to the Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources before January 31st.

They HAVE TO pass this resolution to have the power to recommend factory farms for denial. Contact your county supervisors to make sure they pass and submit it on time! 

We know the Master Matrix is broken, but it is one of the tools counties and local people have to fight back. We also know it is time for supervisors to take a stronger stance.

DID YOUR COUNTY ALREADY PASS THE MASTER MATRIX RESOLUTION? Ask your county supervisors to pass a Moratorium resolution in addition to the Master Matrix. 

Resolutions send a powerful message to the elected officials at the state level. Already 23 counties have passed resolutions calling for a moratorium, stronger protections from factory farms and/or local control.

Contact your county supervisors and tell them to pass BOTH the Master Matrix resolution and the Moratorium resolution. Then give us an email at iowacci@iowacci.org and let us know what they said.

Do you care about clean water? Do you want to join the movement to create vibrant rural communities in Iowa? One way to do that is by meeting with your elected officials, and communicating the need for a moratorium on factory farms.

We’ve prepared a toolkit you can use when attending attending forums with your legislator. Forums are a great place for your voice to be heard and to raise your concerns with your elected officials. 

The session begins in January 2019, but you can begin reviewing the toolkit now

Contact:
Jess Mazour, Community Organizer, 515-282-0484, jess@iowacci.org

Des Moines, IA. – The Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) legislative committee finalized their 2019 legislative priorities at their annual meeting last week.  The legislative recommendations include changes to Iowa’s factory farm permitting and tax systems.

Iowa CCI members are pointing to the action as a sign of growing support for a factory farm moratorium on new and expanding factory farms in Iowa.

The ISAC legislative proposal includes addressing the failure of the Master Matrix and making factory farms pay their fair share of taxes:

  • “As this subject continues to be of growing concern to some county boards of supervisors, ISAC strongly encourages that this [Master Matrix] review be conducted by 2020.”
  • “The result is that the construction of any new agricultural building adds zero net value to Iowa’s property tax base.  This situation is doubly problematic because large-scale livestock operations and grain facilities impose significant additional costs on counties, such as for road maintenance, without expanding the tax base to help pay for those costs.”

“It’s about time that ISAC recognizes that factory farms are harming Iowa counties – not helping them,” said Barb Kalbach, family farmer and CCI member from Dexter. “We’ve tried small tweaks to the Master Matrix, filing complaints about manure management plans, lobbying against tax exemptions, and the legislature is unwilling to act.”

“As an independent family farmer, I pay my fair share of taxes. My corn and soybean farming operation adds revenue and value to Adair County. Our current tax policies allow factory farms to skirt their fair share of taxes. That forces everyone in the county to make up the difference.” Added Kalbach.

Iowa CCI members have pointed out that factory farms are exempt from all kinds of taxes that independent family farmers aren’t exempted from.  Factory farm buildings add no new tax revenues to county coffers.  Manure pits get a tax break under the Pollution Control Tax Exemption.  Wholesale rates on water and electricity are obtained, and factory farms don’t pay sales tax on key inputs, like feed and energy.

The lack of county revenue from the factory farm industry has forced some counties to change their Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) formula – a local program to offset propoerty taxes.

“My roads are constantly being torn up by the dozens of daily semi-trucks driving past my house.  I’m afraid my daughters are going to get in an accident because of the status of the roads,” said Nick Schutt, CCI member and resident of Hardin County.

“Now the Hardin County Supervisors want to change our LOST formula. If implemented, property owners property taxes will increase so the county can keep up with road maintenance,”  added Schutt.

The Hardin County Supervisors have proposed changes to the LOST formula.  Right now 80% of LOST revenue in Hardin County is going to offset property taxes.  The proposed formula would change that to 40% for offsetting property taxes and 40% for maintenance, improvement, and construction of roads and bridges.

The Hardin County LOST formula change will be on the ballot in November.

Last year, CCI members gathered input from Iowans affected by factory farms across the state and filed rulemaking to strengthen the Master Matrix with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  The DNR dismissed the entire rulemaking petition without considering changes to protect our air, water, land, and communities.

“We have already submitted our recommended Master Matrix changes to the DNR and the legislature.  They refuse to act.  That’s why we’re calling for a moratorium on all new and expanding factory farms.  We can’t wait for little tweaks anymore.  We need to stop the expansion now,” said Emma Schmit, Iowa CCI member in Calhoun County.

As of today, CCI members and allies have successfully organized 23 counties to pass resolutions calling for a moratorium, local control, and/or stronger protections from the factory farm industry.

 

Click here to view the ISAC 2019 legislative proposals