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.”

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