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! 

We have exciting news! Iowa CCI Board President Cherie Mortice put her name in the running to be appointed the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) Board of Trustees.

Cherie has a track record of fighting for Des Moines neighborhoods, DMWW ratepayers, and for clean water across the state.

And, we need a fighter.

Des Moines ratepayers need a strong leader to stand with Bill Stowe and the board — especially as Water Works faces tough decisions on how to deal with Iowa’s clean water crisis, including pollution to our source water caused by corporate ag upstream.

Add your name – support Cherie for the Des Moines Water Works board.

This won’t be easy. DMWW Board members are appointed by Mayor Cownie and subject to approval by the Des Moines City Council — both of which voted to support the legislative corporate-power grab attempt to dismantle DMWW.

We need to make sure Mayor Cownie hears from ratepayers across the city that appointing Cherie to the DMWW Board is one way to make up for that bad decision.

Add your name – tell Mayor Cownie to appoint
Cherie Mortice to the DMWW Board!

Get involved: 

 

February 20, 2017

Today, members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) spoke at the Des Moines City Council meeting to oppose HF 316, a bill introduced last week that would dismantle the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) board of directors and distribute the utility’s assets and power to surrounding cities – which would kill the DMWW lawsuit. Members blasted council members for supporting the bill behind closed doors without constituents’ knowledge.

“I feel betrayed. The city council shut us out of the process. Clearly, they didn’t want us to know that they’re caving to Big Ag,” said Barb Lang, a CCI member from Des Moines. “It seems to me that Councilperson Hensley is bending over backwards for corporate ag and putting her political aspirations ahead of the people of Des Moines. Whose side is she on?”

At the meeting, members demanded that each councilor publicly reveal if they support or oppose HF 316. They called on the council to immediately withdraw their support of the bill.

Des Moines Water Works is an independently operated public utility. If passed, the bill would transfer voting power and $250 million in assets away from the City of Des Moines to surrounding suburban customers. HF 316 was introduced in the House Agriculture Committee by Representative Jarad Klein – a republican from Keota who has taken over $20,000 from corporate ag interest groups in recent years.

“This is nothing short of a power grab by the Farm Bureau and corporate ag,” said Jeanne Schwendinger, a CCI member from Ankeny. “This is an attempt to silence Bill Stowe and the board and stop any meaningful change to clean water regulations, plain and simple. Any other explanation is just putting lipstick on a pig.”

“Once again, we’re seeing the Republican legislature trying to take away local control,” said Larry Ginter, a CCI member from Rhodes. “What right do they have to taking away anyone’s right to clean water?”

The DMWW lawsuit is currently scheduled for mid-June this year in Sioux City. The outcome will determine whether or not drainage districts should be considered point sources under the Clean Water Act. In 2015, DMWW ran its nitrate removal facility for a record-breaking 177 days, costing millions of dollars.

 

TAKE ACTION: 

ADD YOUR NAME – to show strong opposition to this bad move

RSVP NOW for Thursday 2/23 – an emergency community meeting with Bill Stowe and DMWW Board President Graham Gillette. 

What: Emergency CCI Clean Water organizing meeting with Bill Stowe and DMWW President Graham Gillette
When: Thursday, February 23 from 6:30 – 8:00 pm
Where: Iowa CCI Headquarters, 2001 Forest Ave, Des Moines

Join the Fight!

  • Ready to take action? Contact us to learn how to get actively involved in this fight.
  • Join as an Iowa CCI member
  • Sign up for our email Action List
  • Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

A a new Statehouse bill (HF 316) would dismantle the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) board and distribute the utility’s assets to surrounding cities – which would kill the DMWW’s lawsuit.

But here’s the kicker: We’ve heard Des Moines City Council supports the bill and even helped draft it. They turned their backs on their own constituents and caved to corporate ag interests.

TAKE ACTION: 

  • ADD YOUR NAME – to show strong opposition to this bad move
  • RSVP NOW for Thursday 2/23 – an emergency community meeting with Bill Stowe and DMWW Board President Graham Gillette. 

HF 316 is another anti-local control, anti-local democracy measure designed to silence fearless truth-tellers like Bill Stowe and quell the growing citizen demand to crack down on corporate ag and factory farm polluters.

We’ve seen what happens to our water when elected officials side with corporate interests instead of everyday people — it looks like Flint, Michigan.

But CCI members aren’t ones to stand by and just let things happen. RSVP to join us here.

What:     Emergency CCI Clean Water organizing meeting with

                  Bill Stowe and DMWW President Graham Gillette

When:    Thursday, February 23 from 6:30 – 8:00 pm

Where:   Iowa CCI Headquarters, 2001 Forest Ave, Des Moines

 

Join us Thursday to learn more – RSVP here.

 

This bill is an obvious Farm Bureau power grab.  We’re hearing lots of excuses about why we should compromise and support this bill.  Here’s how you can respond.

Don’t Dismantle the Des Moines Water Works Talking Points

 About the bill, HF 316:

  • HF 316 would dismantle the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) board and distribute the utility’s assets and power to surrounding cities – which would kill the DMWW’s lawsuit.
  • HF 316 is another anti-local control, anti-local democracy measure designed to silence fearless truth-tellers like Bill Stowe and quell the growing citizen demand to crack down on corporate ag and factory farm polluters.
  • This bill is purely a retribution bill. They are trying to shut down a meaningful attempt to hold corporate ag polluters accountable under the Clean Water Act.
  • A corporate ag shill, Rep Jarad Klein from Keota (not DES MOINES), introduced this bill and is trying to call the shots for Des Moines residents. Klein has taken over $20,000 from corporate ag groups in recent years.
  • Four lobbyists, hired by the city of Des Moines, also represent the Iowa Drainage District Association. The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit directly  ties in with the drainage districts in Buena Vista, Calhoun, and Sac counties where this lawsuit stemmed from.

 

Des Moines City Council demands and talking points:

  • 4 members of the Des Moines City Council support the bill. Shame on City Council members that support this Farm Bureau power grab over their own constituents. There has never been a public vote on this issue.
  • We’ve heard Des Moines’s own City Councilor Christine Hensley – on the board of Farm Bureau’s front group “Partnership for Clean Water” – is colluding with Big Ag to push and draft this bill. That ain’t right.
  • Withdraw your support.  We want to know which of you are siding with corporate ag.

 

Clean Water talking points:

  • Iowa has 754 impaired waterways in 2014 – up 15% from 2012. And, Des Moines Water Works had to run it denitrification machine 177 days in 2015.
  • Iowa has over 9,000 factory farms that produce 22 billion gallons of manure.
  • We need mandatory regulations, not voluntary. The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit seeks mandatory regulations through the Clean Water Act.
  • We’ve seen what happens to our water when elected officials side with corporate interests instead of everyday people — it looks like Flint, Michigan.

Take Action

  • ADD YOUR NAME – to show strong opposition to this bad move
  • RSVP NOW for Thursday 2/23 – an emergency community meeting with Bill Stowe and DMWW Board President Graham Gillette.

Join the Clean Water Fight!

  • Ready to take action? Contact us to learn how to get actively involved in this fight.
  • Join as an Iowa CCI member
  • Sign up for our email Action List
  • Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

LIKE & SHARE for a clean water Iowa: 

Des Moines Water Works is making waves in the Clean Water Fight they are filing a lawsuit against three Iowa counties that manage drainage districts with dangerously high levels of nitrates.

Read more on DMWW suing so we can achieve a Clean Water Iowa.

We need YOU tomorrow when DMWW will vote to take this extremely important step for our water!

What: Des Moines Water Works Public Hearing

When: Thursday, January 8 | 2:00pm | Carpooling to the hearing

Where: Meet at the CCI Office, 2001 Forest Ave., DSM

Be there to voice support for this! Let us know if you can make it by replying to this email or calling 515-282-0484.

 

Learn more

 

Join the Fight

Factory farm proposing to build near you? Have concerns about an existing facility? We can work with you and your community to fight back and stand up for clean air and water and your quality of life.

CCI Members Slam Gov. Branstad’s DNR For Undercutting Public Input On Critical New Clean Water Act Rule 

 

After months of closed-door meetings with industry lobby groups and the governor’s office, the Iowa DNR says they will only allow a 28-day public comment period

 

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members slammed Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Chuck Gipp April 8 for attempting to limit public comment on new Clean Water Act rules to only 28 days after months of closed-door meetings with the corporate ag lobby.

Iowa CCI members say the attempt to limit public comment is part of a long pattern of anti-transparent behavior by the Branstad Administration to shield big corporations from accountability and public scrutiny.

“Governor Branstad and DNR Director Gipp need to stop working with the industry and start working with everyday people to crack down on factory farm pollution instead of attempting to shut the public out of the decision-making process,” said Lori Nelson, the Iowa CCI board president from Bayard whose rural homestead is surrounded by 5,000 corporate hogs.

Iowa DNR legal counsel Randy Clark, available at 515.282.8891 or randy.clark@dnr.iowa.gov, confirmed to Iowa CCI members that public comment on the draft Clean Water Act rule would begin April 16 and end May 13.  Six public hearings in Mason City, Spencer, Carroll, Des Moines, Calmar, and Ainsworth will also be jammed into the space of six back-to-back working days, May 6-13, excluding Mother’s Day weekend May 10-11.

“The Notice of Intended Action [set to be published April 16] will provide that the comment period ends on May 13, 2014.  Thereafter DNR staff will review the comments and summarize them in a responsiveness summary which will be provided to the [Environmental Protection Commission] at the time it considers adopting the proposed amendments.  The DNR will strive to bring this to the August EPC meeting,” DNR legal counsel Randy Clark wrote Iowa CCI members March 31.

Iowa CCI members say DNR rulemaking on similar issues in the past typically ran at least 60 days and often as long as 180 days, and that the 28-day window in this case for citizen input beginning April 16 and ending May 13 will drastically limit the ability of everyday Iowans to learn more about the proposed Clean Water Act permitting rule and participate fully in the public comment process.

A strong Clean Water Act rule has the potential to force some 8,500 factory farms in Iowa to either start playing by tougher environmental standards or get shut down, but the rule as currently written is much weaker and leaves too much discretion to state regulators to look the other way and continue business as usual.

The proposed new rule was mandated by a September 11, 2013 work plan agreement signed by the Iowa DNR and the EPA after years of organizing and litigation by Iowa CCI members and allies the Environmental Integrity Project and the Iowa Sierra Club.  The work plan negotiations last summer were marked by the political interference of Governor Branstad, who brought key industry lobbyists into the meetings by state and federal regulators.

The DNR’s first post-workplan meeting with the Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Pork Producers, and Iowa Cattleman’s Association was November 15, 2013 and the DNR made at least one change after that to weaken the proposed rule based on industry comment.  The rule was then held up for several weeks in late February and early March by the governor’s office before being forwarded on to the EPC at their March meeting.

There have been at least 728 documented manure spills since 1996 and Iowa currently has at least 630 polluted waterways, according to DNR records.  Some researchers have found that manure from factory farm lagoons is leaking at more than twice the rate allowed by law, and it’s anyone’s guess how many times rainwater, floods, or melting snow have run freshly spread liquid manure off of farmland and into rivers, lakes, and streams.

Des Moines Water Works has also reported some ammonia problems already this Spring that the water utility says “often” comes from “livestock operations” and “manure-fertilized fields”.  Last year, Des Moines Water Works spent nearly $1 million removing nitrates from drinking water drawn from the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers.

Factory farm expansion is also up, with nearly one thousand of the state’s 8,500 factory farms being built since January 1, 2012.   A conservative estimate finds that Iowa’s 21 million hogs produce between five and ten billion gallons of toxic manure every year.