By Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg
Yesterday, the Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees voted unanimously to pursue a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors in Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties in their role as governing authority for 10 drainage districts that are discharging pollution into the Raccoon River, threatening Des Moines’ drinking water. This decision comes at the expiration of the issuance of a mandatory 60 day notice of intent to sue and unsuccessful efforts to address the issue under the current voluntary strategy.
Des Moines Waterworks (DMWW) has legitimate concerns about the operations of the drainage districts in the three counties in northern Iowa named in the lawsuit. These drainage districts contribute to high nitrate concentrations in the Raccoon River which create a significant treatment challenge for DMWW to provide safe drinking water to their customers. We share DMWW’s concern about the lack of urgency and measurable progress to reduce the nitrate pollution these drainage districts are sending downstream.
A Des Moines Register poll conducted last month found 63 percent of Iowans believe DMWW should pursue a lawsuit against drainage districts in northwest Iowa. It’s clear that Iowans want to see increased action on achieving measurably cleaner water in the state, and the lawsuit raises important questions about the effectiveness of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy in achieving measurably cleaner water.
For the past two years, the Council has called for improvements to strengthen the all-voluntary strategy to address Iowans’ concerns about the lack of local goals, timelines with benchmarks, consistent water quality testing and assessment to gauge progress, and sustainable funding for implementation. Perhaps DMWW would not have found it necessary to file suit against the three counties in northern Iowa had the state’s leaders taken meaningful action to address these concerns.
While the lawsuit works its way through the courts, we will continue to call for these improvements, and work collaboratively with elected officials, agricultural groups, individual farmers and landowners, environmental groups and other diverse stakeholders to ensure Iowa’s water quality is improving.