A federal judge has dismissed a Des Moines water utility’s lawsuit against three counties that accuses them of allowing agricultural drainage districts to send nitrate pollution into the rivers the water utility uses for drinking water.
The judge on March 17 dismissed all of Des Moines Water Works’ claims against drainage districts in Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties, ruling that water pollution is an issue for the Iowa legislature to address.
The water utility alleged the three counties that oversee the drainage districts should be required to obtain federal water pollution discharge permits and pay the utility more than $1 million that it spent for increased filtration methods to remove the nitrates from water. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in January that the utility could not force the drainage districts to reimburse the utility for the cost of cleaning excess nitrates from the water.
Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey — all Republicans — lauded the federal judge’s ruling, saying the lawsuit wasn’t necessary to improve water quality, because farmers and government subdivisions already are taking steps to ensure water quality.
Utility CEO Bill Stowe said he’s disappointed in the ruling and that the utility’s board will review its options in the case.
“Perhaps the state legislature should now spend its time addressing meaningful, long-term, sustainably-funded policy solutions to our serious water problems instead of meddling in affairs best left to local communities,” Stowe said.
The state Legislature, now controlled by Republicans who won big majorities in the November election, is considering a measure to dissolve the utility. GOP lawmakers say the change is meant to allow the cities in the area more direct control of their own water. But supporters of Des Moines Water Works say the move is catering to farm interests in a legislature where conservatives now hold sway.
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