Bill Stowe, a central figure in the 2015 lawsuit by the Des Moines Water Works that tried to hold drainage districts in three northwest Iowa counties responsible for nutrient runoff from farms, died of cancer on Sunday at age 60. He retired as general manager of the utility on April 2 because of the illness, said the Des Moines Register.
More than 200 of Iowa’s community water systems struggle with agricultural runoff, periodically issuing “Do Not Drink” orders because of high levels of nitrates. “The good news is that researchers have a pretty good handle on how to solve Iowa’s water problem,” reports Elizabeth Royte in FERN’s latest story, with National Geographic. (No paywall)
Seven million Americans who live in small cities and towns have worrisome levels of nitrates in their drinking water — below the federal limit of 10 milligrams per liter, but high enough to be associated with cancer in some studies, said an Environmental Working Group official. Craig Cox, head of EWG's Midwest office, said 1,683 communities had nitrate levels above 5 milligrams per liter and, when plotted on a map, they "crazily lined up with intensive agriculture."
From Vermont’s Lake Champlain to rivers in California, waterways are being overloaded with nutrient pollution running off farms. But Vermont took an approach to cleaning up its waterways that could well serve as a model for other states, especially now that the federal government is in regulatory retreat in the Trump era, writes Paul Greenberg in FERN’s latest story with Eating Well magazine.
Art Cullen, co-owner of the Storm Lake Times, published twice a week in northwestern Iowa, won the Pulitzer Prize "for editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa." The editorials criticized county officials for letting agricultural interests dictate their response to a lawsuit by the Des Moines Water Works over nutrient runoff and held agriculture responsible for polluted waters.
A U.S. district judge rejected the legal underpinnings of the Des Moines Water Works' lawsuit that sought to hold drainage districts in northwestern Iowa responsible for nutrient runoff from farms. The judge dismissed the case, ending the chances for a precedent-setting interpretation of clean-water laws. Agricultural runoff generally is exempt from the water pollution laws, but the Des Moines utility argued that the drainage districts were identifiable "point" sources of pollution and should be required to meet clean-water standards.
The Des Moines Water Works won national attention with its lawsuit to force regulation of nutrient runoff from farms. Now, the Republican-controlled Iowa House is considering a bill to dismantle the Water Works board and replace it with a regional utility, says Iowa Public Radio.
Environmentalists fear state and local officials will feel less urgency to improve water quality now that the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled drainage districts are immune from damage claims, said the Des Moines Register. The court ruling affects a federal lawsuit, expected to go to trial in Sioux City in June, by the Des Moines Water Works that blames drainage districts in three counties in northwestern Iowa for high nitrate levels in the Raccoon River.
With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in carrying out Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which calls for a 45 percent cut in nitrogen and phosphorus levels in waterways, "a new and controversial debate is looming," says the Des Moines Register. Environmentalists and scientists want to rely on water-quality monitoring to determine progress while farm groups say the best way is to tally conservation practices put in place on the land.
Legal fees are already approaching $2 million in the potentially landmark suit by the Des Moines Water Works against three counties in northwest Iowa over nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River, says the Des Moines Register. The Iowa Farm Bureau and Iowa Corn Growers Association offered financial aid to Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun counties following their decision to sever a relationship with the private nonprofit Agricultural Legal Defense Fund.