Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Rural/urban battle heating up in Iowa on who will pay for water pollution clean up

A rural/urban battle has been brewing in Iowa for nearly two years about who is to blame for polluting Central Iowa's water supply and who should foot the bill for cleanup. In 2015 Des Moines Water Works sued rural northwest counties of Sac, Calhoun and Buena Vista to make farmers comply with federal clean-water standards that apply to factories and commercial users. Farmers asked for more time to improve voluntary methods of reducing pollution. (Mother Jones graphic)

Experts and environmentalists say the suit could have national implications over who is responsible for water pollution that originates from cropland that is often hundreds of miles away.

"For the lawsuit to be successful, a court must first decide if the fertilizer-rich water running off the fields comes from under the ground," David Biello reports for PBS NewsHour. "If a court decides it is groundwater, then Des Moines Water Works have a valid case. If a court decides the runoff is storm water running off the surface of the fields, then Des Moines Water Works has no case."

Bill Stowe, chief executive officer of Des Moines Water Works, said farm runoff from Central Iowa forced them to build the world's largest nitrate removal facility to deliver clean water to customers, Biello writes. Stowe told him, "It’s the ag folks that really are driving this problem. And, in this state, we regulate, and some would argue over-regulate, cities and towns. But we leave unregulated industrial agriculture. And, of course, agriculture is the king of the block. Therefore, leave it alone, and hopefully a voluntary system will bring in conservation practices that will improve water quality. We say, no pun intended, hogwash to that, hasn’t worked, won’t work."

Buena Vista County Supervisor Dale Arends, who is named in the lawsuit, said the lawsuit "would change agriculture if Des Moines Water Works gets what they want," Biello reports. Arends told him, "If they were able to come out here and tell us how much water we could remove from our soils to make them farmable, you would turn Central Iowa back into a swamp, which is what it was 150 years ago. They have forced themselves to spend over three-quarters-of-a-million dollars. They have forced us to spend over a million dollars, and nothing has really changed." (Read more)

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