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As lawsuit idles, Iowa ag works to improve water

As lawsuit idles, Iowa ag works to improve water

You’ve got to wonder if Bill Stowe, the CEO of Des Moines Water Works (DMWW), and his board of directors are starting to have second thoughts about their lawsuit against drainage districts in northwest Iowa.

The lawsuit — which is trying to saddle farmers with cookie-cutter regulations that would likely raise costs, reduce flexibility and sharply restrict innovative practices to improve water quality — continues to drag its way through the legal process. As predicted, it’s become a time-consuming and costly quagmire.

The first trial in the lawsuit has been delayed until June 2017, and appeals are likely, no matter the outcome. Legal bills for both sides have already climbed to exceed $2 million with no signs of abating.

Taking on the challenge

Unlike the DMWW, Iowa farm­ers aren’t sitting around waiting (and waiting) for the courts to complete the lawsuit. Instead, they are moving forward and taking up the challenge of improving water quality. And they were doing that way before the DMWW lawsuit was filed.

Farmers are planting cover crops on more acres, building wetlands, installing saturated buffers and implementing a whole range of other practices outlined in the Iowa Water Quality Initiative. In the latest report card on the initiative, state officials give farmers and their supporters high marks and highlighted progress in every variable being measured.

At the same time, farm groups, lawmakers and others are working to develop a long-term, dedicated funding source to supplement farmers’ own water quality investments. Water quality funding was a key topic at the recent Iowa Farm Bureau Federation Summer Policy Conference, where delegates said it should be a priority in the state’s budget. Other farm groups, as well as key lawmakers, also plan to focus on water quality in next year’s legislative session.

All told, it’s really an exciting time for water quality in Iowa. Farmers are trying new practices that are proven to improve water quality. They are learning what does and doesn’t work on their own land. And they are passing that information along so others can learn.

It’s a far cry from where DMWW seems to be these days: stuck in neutral, spending the fees of ratepayers (like me) on legal fees and waiting for a lawsuit to be resolved.



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