Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement highlights importance of clean water lawsuit 

Des Moines, IA – This past weekend, a failed manure tank valve from a hog factory farm in Buena Vista County released an unknown amount of manure which resulted in dead fish, manure, and elevated ammonia levels throughout four miles of a tributary of the North Raccoon River.

“Time and time again factory farms are allowed to build too close to major water sources like the Raccoon River. Pair that with zero accountability for manure spills like this one and it’s a recipe for disaster. We need stronger laws and regulations to mitigate this issue, otherwise it will be people downstream that keep paying the price to clean up the mess,” said Linda Luhring, member of Iowa CCI from Calhoun county, just south of the maure spill.

So far this year, 9 factory farms have discharged liquid manure and raw feces, 4 of which reached Iowa’s 767 already impaired waterways. In the last 5 years, over 100 manure spills have polluted Iowa’s waterways. This doesn’t take into consideration the over 22 billion gallons of liquid manure from Iowa’s over 10,000 factory farms that is dumped untreated every year onto fields across the state resulting in double, and sometimes triple, the amount of nitrates being applied to farm fields.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch filed a clean water lawsuit against the State of Iowa early last year after failures by the Legislature and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds 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 state’s waterways. 

“The Raccoon River runs through one of the most intensely farmed areas in the United States. If the state’s failed nutrient reduction strategy remains voluntary and we continue allowing the factory farm industry to expand, Iowa’s water crisis isn’t going to improve. Manure spills that have polluted our waters, like this one, are why we are suing the state,” said Adam Mason, State Policy Director at Iowa CCI. “We know that our water isn’t going to clean itself up, which is why we need mandatory and measurable strategies to ensure the future of our water is safe – for us and every generation after us. 

Background: 

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 largest and most expensive nitrate removal systems in the world. The utility’s struggle to provide safe drinking water to Des Moines metro 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 2019-2020 Legislative Sessions. 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.

The 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 Racoon River and make it safe for people to recreate in and for those who rely on it for drinking water. The case is currently pending an interlocutory appeal granted by the Iowa Supreme Court. The appeal will likely be heard by the Iowa Supreme Court coming up in the fall of 2020.

Local, State, and National Groups Unite in Support of Immediate Moratorium on Factory Farms Amid Covid-19 Crisis

Des Moines, IA – Iowans overwhelmed by COVID-19 crisis are infuriated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ removal of environmental protections from factory farms and the compromised democratic process for permitting amid the global health pandemic. 18 environmental, community, and agricultural organizations are calling on Governor Reynolds to enforce an immediate 6-month moratorium on factory farm construction permits to prevent public health and environmental exploitation by the factory farm industry.

The letter was initiated by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and states:

“Iowa has over 10,000 factory farms. Factory farms are a known public health hazard, causing a variety of health problems including respiratory issues especially for vulnerable populations. This is such a public health concern that the American Public Health Association has called for a moratorium. In the midst of a global health pandemic Iowans are overwhelmed with public safety and health. We should not have to worry about a factory farm moving in further threatening our public health during and beyond this crisis.”

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has rolled back environmental and health protections by allowing factory farms to cram extra animals into confinement buildings and suspending fines for environmental violations.

Additionally, despite DNR offices closing and limited activities being switched to virtual teleconference, permitting for factory farm construction is continuing. County boards of supervisors are being forced to determine how they will proceed with public comment.

“In the past, Reynolds and her administration have fought calls for local control and a moratorium at all cost in order to carry out the factory farm industry’s agenda. But now, during a global health pandemic, Reynolds and the DNR have pushed the responsibility onto each county regarding how they will handle public comment on factory farm applications,” said Louise Minor, CCI Member from West Des Moines, IA.

“The effects of the COVID-19 are and will continue to impact Iowans beyond even the immediate crisis we are facing. We are demanding that Governor Reynolds stand with the interests of everyday Iowans by protecting our public health, our right to clean water and our ability to participate in the democratic process by implementing an immediate 6-month moratorium on factory farms,” said Ava Auen-Ryan, Iowa CCI community organizer.

Iowa CCI members site growing support for a factory farm moratorium. A 2019 poll of voting Iowans showed 63% support a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms. One in four Iowa counties have passed resolutions calling on the state legislature to take action for a moratorium and stronger protections from the factory farm industry. In 2019, Iowa CCI along with Food & Water Watch and Public Justice, filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa for their failure to address the impact of corporate agriculture and the factory farm industry on Iowa’s water crisis.

CCI members point to the growing in-state and national momentum ahead of the 2020 legislative session

For Immediate release: 12/17/19

Des Moines, IA – Yesterday Senator Booker (D-NJ) introduced a national factory farm moratorium. The Farm System Reform Act of 2019 would put a halt on all new or expanding factory farms amongst other policies to create a level playing field for independent family farmers.

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) say that this is the solution needed in Iowa to restore vibrant rural communities and clean up the state’s water.

“The factory farm industry extracts profits from our rural communities and leaves us to deal with the pollution,” said Barb Kalbach a CCI member and 4th generation family farmer from Adair county. “We have over 10,000 factory farms in Iowa, a moratorium is the only solution that matches the scale of the crisis.”

Iowa CCI points to the growing grassroots support for a moratorium across the state. With over 6,000 Iowans signing a petition calling for a moratorium, and 26 counties passing a resolution calling for a moratorium and/or stronger regulations on factory farms.

“People across the state, rural and urban alike, understand that the factory farm industry isn’t working for us,” said Brenda Brink a CCI member from rural Story county. “It is time for our state legislators to respond to our needs, not corporate ag interests. That means passing a moratorium at the state legislature.”

Iowa is the leading hog producer in the nation with over 26 million hogs in confinement at any given time, meaning 1 in every 3 hogs produced in the United States. These factory farms generate over 22 billion gallons of toxic liquid manure that is dumped untreated onto farm fields across the state. Between human and animal waste Iowa creates the equivalent of 168 million people, in a state with only 3.2 million people.

In response to the inaction of the Governor and legislature, Iowa CCI, along with Food & Water Watch and Public Justice have filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa. This lawsuit addresses their failure to address the impact of corporate ag and the factory farm industry on Iowa’s water crisis. Iowa’s 767 impaired waterways prevent Iowans from fishing, swimming in and kayaking on state rivers and also results in higher drinking water costs.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is a statewide, grassroots people’s action group that uses community organizing to win public policy that puts communities before corporations and people before profits, politics and polluters. CCI has been fighting to put people first for over 40 years. Follow us on Twitter at @iowacci.

How do we hold them accountable with our money?

We need to send IED Director Debi Durham a message. Sign the petition!

In 2016 the Prestage slaughterhouse received $24.3 million public dollars in subsidies to build in Eagle Grove. That’s money that could have been used for public schools, hospitals, and rural infrastructure. 

But that’s not the first time this slaughterhouse tried to hijack our public coffers. Before building in Eagle Grove, Prestage Foods attempted to build in Mason City. CCI members and clean water fighters successfully organized and pressured the Mason City City Council to deny the use of public money for Prestage shutting the project down.

After its loss in Mason City the Prestage slaughterhouse proposed a site in Eagle Grove. Despite strong local and statewide opposition, the Wright County board of supervisors approved the slaughterhouse proposal 3-0.

That is when Governor Reynolds and the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IED) gave the Prestage slaughterhouse $24.3 million in “incentives”. In exchange for our money, Prestage promised to create 332 “high quality” jobs that pay at least $15.54/hour with some benefits.

A review process for Prestage began in August of 2019. We want to know will the IED hold Prestage accountable with our money?

CCI leaders from North Central tried setting up a meeting with Debi Durham (Director of the IED). After two months of “scheduling” the IED agreed to a meeting only to cancel two days before.

Now, they are trying to push our meeting off another two months.

Sign our petition demanding that Durham meet with CCI members and hold Prestage accountable for our public dollars.

If Prestage hasn’t fulfilled their promises, they need to pay that money back!

We know the true impact corporate ag has had on rural economies. Town squares with bordered up shops, fewer and fewer job opportunities, and hospitals that no longer deliver babies.

We can’t, and never have been able to afford the cost of propping up the factory farm industry. Join us in demanding that Durham meet with CCI members and hold Prestage accountable for our public dollars.

Sign our petition now – public money should be used for the public good.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) finally released the Impaired Waterways List and the public comment period is officially open. Submit your comment by December 28.

Did you know?

This report is supposed to be released on April 1 of even numbered years according to federal Clean Water Act requirements. Yet, the DNR released it more than 19 months late.

Of the over 1,400 segments from streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands that the DNR investigated:

  • Only 363 segments fully met Iowa’s water quality standards
  • 767 segments are impaired
  • 523 segments are still in need of further investigation

The DNR has no timeline to finish the investigations that need to be done. With the status of over 500 segments unknown, there is a possibility that over 90% of the segments are impaired.

This confirms what Iowa CCI members have been saying all along: the state of Iowa is failing to protect Iowa’s waterways.

Despite this, the supervisor of the DNR water monitoring and assessment program, Roger Bruner, described the number of impairments as “fairly minor” and claimed the list is “like going to the doctor and finding out you have high cholesterol”.

Clean water is a basic human right! And, downplaying the severity of over half our waterbodies being impaired is a gross misrepresentation of the clean water crisis we are in.

What do I want for Christmas this year? CLEAN WATER!

Help us get the clean water we have a right to and submit your comment to the DNR here.

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.”