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.

Don’t miss out out: learn about our lawsuit and how we turn the tide for clean water

At the end of March, we sued the state for failing to protect our right to clean water. Now we are heading out to connect with folks from across the state who are ready to turn the tide for clean water.

These are meetings you won’t want to miss!

At these community meetings, you’ll learn:

  • the history behind the lawsuit and how this ties into our existing moratorium campaign
  • the details about our game changing public trust doctrine lawsuit
  • ways to connect with others in your area to plug into the statewide movement saying YES to clean water and NO MORE factory farms!

Check out where we are hosting these meetings below and be sure to RSVP for the meeting nearest you.

Waterloo, April 23 @ 6:30 PM 
Waterloo Center for the Arts – Visual Arts Studio
225 Commercial Street Waterloo, IA 50701
RSVP for the Waterloo location here.

Nevada, April 25 @ 7 PM 
Nevada Public Library
631 K Ave. Nevada, IA 50201
RSVP for the Nevada location here.

Iowa City, May 1 @ 6:30 PM 
Catholic Worker House
1414 Sycamore St. Iowa City, IA 52240
RSVP for the Iowa City location here.

Davenport, May 8 @ 6:30 PM 
Location TBD
RSVP for the Davenport location here.

Sioux City, May 9 @ 6:30 PM
First Unitarian Church
2508 Jackson St. Sioux City, IA 51104
RSVP for the Sioux City location here.

Rockwell City, May 14 @ 6:30 PM 
Rockwell City Community Center
424 Main Street Rockwell City, IA 50579
RSVP for the Rockwell City location here.

Clear Lake, May 16 @ 6:30 PM
Clear Lake Public Library
200 N 4th St. Clear Lake, IA 50428
RSVP for the Clear Lake location here.

Decorah, May 21 @ 6:30 PM
The Lingonberry
218 W Water St. Decorah, IA 52101
RSVP for the Decorah location here.

We are hitting so many places because we want to talk to as many folks as possible about our clean water fight – we need everybody in.

RSVP for the roadshow closest to you and bring your friends!

Join, donate, chip in now to support this legal action – let’s turn the tide for clean water!

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?”

Water is life! That’s why we need the Clean Water Act. Today, we celebrate its 45th birthday by continuing the fight for full enforcement.

Did you know that factory farms — one of biggest sources of Iowa’s water crisis — avoided regulations under the Clean Water Act for years?

That’s why, 10 years ago, CCI members, EIP, and Sierra Club filed a petition with the EPA, bringing attention to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ reluctance to implement the CWA for factory farms. Because of your hard work, the EPA & Iowa’s DNR is committed to a 5 year workplan to get into compliance, including to inspect all 10,000+ factory farms in Iowa (but DNR says this doesn’t include the 5,000 “unknowns” they just found),

Next fall, the 5 year deadline is up. How do you think they’re doing?

We’ve watched the DNR dig in their heels to ensure that factory farms can continue business as usual — profitting off polluting our waters. The EPA’s findings this year will bring exciting updates to this important fight for clean water for everyone — not just the people who can afford it.

Iowa’s water is in crisis, and nothing will change unless we act to fix it. Stay in the know on this fight — make sure you’re on our email list, and pitch in $5, $10, or $15 to continue the work.


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.

 

The Environmental Protection Commission denies petition to strengthen the factory farm permitting process 


Videography courtesy Rodger Routh

Des Moines, IA – Today at its monthly meeting, the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) voted before a packed crowd to deny a rulemaking petition filed by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch to strengthen the master matrix – a tool in the factory farm permitting process. At the meeting, the commission received over 1,500 comments in support of the petition and nearly 100 Iowans showed up to tell the nine commissioners to strengthen the fifteen-year-old scoring system.

“I feel betrayed by the Environmental Protection Commission for voting against the people of Iowa today and deciding to do nothing to improve the factory farm permitting process,” said Rosie Partridge, CCI member from Sac County. “It is clear that the DNR and the EPC lack the political will to stand up to the factory farm industry and make these much-needed improvements for thousands of Iowans. Shame on them!”

Despite 17% of Iowa counties sending Letters of Support for the petition and/or passing resolutions that call for more protections from the factory farm industry, none of the eight commissioners present today voted to move forward with the rulemaking petition.

The denial was based on a recommendation by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the agency overseen by the EPC. Rather than responding comprehensively to the detailed petition, the DNR cherry-picked just a few proposals to justify denying the entire petition outright – even though the department could have given its own revisions and recommendations on the proposal.

“This vote against strengthening the master matrix is a vote for increasing Big Ag’s profits at the expense of Iowans’ health and environment. The DNR clearly lacks the political will to fix its broken regulations, but we will continue to fight for commonsense regulations to hold factory farms accountable and protect rural communities,” said Tarah Heinzen, Staff Attorney at Food & Water Watch.

The master matrix is supposed to provide a comprehensive review of environmental and community risks, allowing counties to recommend denial of facilities that will have harmful impacts. But the matrix developed by the DNR has proven so easy to pass that it has amounted to little more than a rubber stamp: Applicants only need to satisfy enough of the listed criteria to obtain 50 percent of the available points – an “F” by most standards. DNR records show that only 2.2 percent of applications have been denied since the master matrix was created in 2002.

The petition asked for:

  • A higher minimum passing score, requiring applicants to earn more points to obtain a permit;
  • A one-time enrollment for counties, rather than the current burdensome requirement for counties to readopt the master matrix every single year;
  • Revisions to the point structure to incentivize practices that prevent or mitigate pollution;
  • New criteria that consider more environmental factors, such as unique topography and existing water pollution impairments;
  • Elimination of criteria that do not provide meaningful environmental or community benefits; and
  • Increased separation distances from things like schools, homes, public use areas, wells, etc.

“My private well is a perfect example of why we need to strengthen the master matrix. In just three years, my well’s nitrate level has risen from 8 parts per million to 12, and this summer it tested at 19, almost double the federal safe drinking water standard,” said Janis Elliott, CCI member from Warren County. “Over 300,000 Iowans rely on private wells. How many of us are drinking poison?”

Meeting attendees vowed to continue pressuring the EPC, DNR, Governor Reynolds, and the Iowa Legislature to crack down on the factory farm industry and finally address Iowa’s growing water crisis. Following the EPC meeting, CCI members delivered letters to Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer, Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, and Governor Reynolds putting them on notice to take action during the 2018 legislative session.

“We won’t stop fighting the corporate cronyism that pollutes Iowa’s water. Today was only the beginning,” said Nick Schutt, farmer and CCI member from Hardin County. “To fix the problem, we need to hold our elected officials accountable and make sure they stand with the people of Iowa. Governor Reynolds and Iowa legislators, we are putting you on notice. We will see you in January!”

The citizen letters demanded:

  • a moratorium on new and expanding factory farm construction;
  • local control over the siting of factory farms;
  • mandatory – not voluntary – regulations to clean up our water;
  • tough enforcement of existing regulations; and
  • a plan to make industrial ag pay to clean up the $5 billion pollution problem it has created.

“It’s clear – the master matrix is broken. In the face of more inaction by Iowa DNR, it is the duty of Iowa’s elected officials to stand with everyday people,” the letters read. “We need a farm and food system that works for farmers, workers, eaters and our environment  – not just industrial ag’s bottom line.”

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

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.

 

Learn more

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.

Water — think about it for a minute.

We drink it; we bathe in it. We cook with it; we swim in it. Literally, we can’t live without it.

We expect it to be clean. We need it to be clean. But what if it isn’t?

Factory farms are putting Iowa’s water at risk. At Iowa CCI we’re doing everything we can to keep our water clean – for us, for our kids, for our grandkids.

  • Each year, factory farm hogs in Iowa produce as much raw, untreated waste as 45 million people. That’s 15 x the population of Iowa!
  • It gets dumped on fields and ends up polluting the water we drink, swim in, fish in and enjoy.
  • 60% of Iowa’s tested waterways are polluted.

Industry is pushing for “voluntary compliance” of clean water measures. But we know voluntary doesn’t work. We need tough rules and regulations that crackdown on polluters.

There’s no other way to describe it: we have to fight for clean water. And the time is now.

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