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Collaboration over litigation: Funds would be better spent on successful conservation projects, not lawyers

Linn County farmers, community leaders, city officials, planners, water treatment officials, and elected representatives gathered last summer to discuss efforts to improve water quality.
I have the utmost respect for our legal system and all who serve it. My wife is a court reporter, and my brother-in-law and a few of my close friends are also attorneys. The judicial system plays an integral role in our society, however, when it comes to Iowa’s water quality challenges, the path to continued improvement will not be found in the courtroom; improvement lies in collaboration.

I’m not the only one concerned about Des Moines Water Works' (DMWW) litigious approach targeting three counties in northwest Iowa. Shortly after news broke that the DMWW trustees voted to file their lawsuit in federal court, my phone lit up with text messages and phone calls from concerned stakeholders.

“I’m really concerned that this lawsuit will halt the conservation momentum we have going,” a Black Hawk County farmer and County Soil and Water District Commissioner said to me in a text message.

“Installing conservation practices are a costly investment, but paying for a lengthy legal battle is pretty expensive, too,” a Dallas County farmer told me. “I would guess this lawsuit really reduces the number of guys putting in new conservation because they fear they will be paying for a lawyer instead. It’s a shame; this lawsuit won’t do a darned thing to improve water quality.”

My 22 month-old daughter often thinks ‘it’s her way or no way,’ and is prone to an occasional tantrum, but my wife and I always work to teach her new things and expose her to the unfamiliar. I see a striking resemblance in the handling of this issue by DMWW leadership. It’s their way (lawsuit) or no way.

I was troubled to read that DMWW leaders responded, “Thanks, but no,” when invited to a northwest Iowa farm to see firsthand what local farmers are doing to improve water quality. It’s concerning that DMWW leaders would rather stay in Des Moines to concoct a lawsuit instead of meeting with key stakeholders to learn something about agriculture and successful conservation practices, especially when a collaborative water quality improvement effort has proven successful in Iowa’s second-largest city.

Water quality is a complex issue that requires thoughtful, meaningful solutions, such as the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. I am confident there is a table that can accommodate stakeholder representatives focused on improving Iowa’s water quality; we have seen it all across the state. Unfortunately, the chair for DMWW sits empty at these collaborative meetings as they prepare for a legal battle that will delay positive conservation efforts and negatively impact water quality - the very issue they claim to be focused on improving. It pains me to think how much effective conservation work could be done in Iowa with the funds needed to fight this legal battle. I think most common-sense Iowans would rather see stakeholder collaboration that leads to continued improvement rather than endless litigation.

By Andrew Wheeler. Andrew is Iowa Farm Bureau's public relations coordinator.