After spending two years in court and millions of dollars of ratepayer money in legal fees, the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) appears to have accomplished very little in its lawsuit against drainage districts in three northwest Iowa counties.
Sure, the lawsuit, which was dismissed last month by a federal district court judge, generated a lot of attention for Bill Stowe, the CEO of the Des Moines area water supplier. It also created some unnecessary divisions between rural and urban Iowans.
But there’s no evidence that the DMWW lawsuit had any impact on Stowe’s stated goal for filing it: improving Iowa’s water quality. It didn’t plant a single acre of cover crops, establish a wetland or install a buffer.
Progress is clear
On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence that farmers are accomplishing much as they take on the challenge of improving water quality through the proven practices outlined in Iowa’s water quality initiative.
Farmers are planting far more acres to cover crops, which have proven to reduce nutrient loss and improve soil health. At an estimated 623,700 acres in 2016, Iowa’s cover crop acreage is close to double what it was in 2014 and more than 60 times the 2009 total.
All over the state, I’ve seen farmers take the initiative to have bioreactors, wetlands and saturated buffers installed on their fields to remove nitrates. I’ve also visited with plenty of farmers investing in other conservation practices, including precision fertilizer programs to trim nutrient losses.
This is not a temporary thing. Surveys by Farm Bureau, Iowa State University and others show that farmers intend to continue water quality and soil conservation work, and to build on it.
Many Iowa communities, such as Cedar Rapids and Storm Lake, are also jumping on the water quality wave by working with farmers to improve the water coming into their treatment facilities.
In my years of writing about Iowa agriculture, I’ve really never seen a movement that is as broad-based, scientifically backed and as well-coordinated as this push to improve water quality. And it started years before Stowe came on the scene.
It’s especially exciting because it’s being driven by farmers determined to do their part in improving Iowa’s water quality. They aren’t about to let a lawsuit, or anything else, stop them.