According to CEO Bill Stowe, it is the job of the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) to "protect the surface waters of our state from unfettered degradation."
Which is interesting, as before he has said that the DMWW lawsuit was simply a "business decision," and that taking substantial steps to improve water quality in Iowa would be enough for him to drop his lawsuit that attacks upstream farmers. Yet when the governor suggests a plan to direct billions over the next three decades into improving water quality, he decides that is not good enough.
Mr. Stowe needs to get his story straight.
If Mr. Stowe were to direct the money being used on the lawsuit, or the money directed toward his half-million dollar golden parachute, toward improving the Des Moines Water Works’ aging denitrification infrastructure, this might not have been an issue in the first place.
If Des Moines Water Works’ concern for healthy water were truly at the heart of this lawsuit, then it would not dump nitrates directly back into the water supply for its downstream neighbors. Instead, it would focus its efforts on developing a plan to upgrade its outdated infrastructure to efficiently manage its growing capacity for the long term.
In terms of generations
Mr. Stowe seems to think that he can dictate a time line and terms for improved water quality in Iowa.
However, unlike Mr. Stowe, farmers think in terms of generations, not in terms of a few years. If farmers were forced, as Mr. Stowe suggests, to use specific farm practices, then we would hold farmers to only the technology available today and hope that those specific practices work on every farm across the state.
Unlike the Des Moines Water Works and its aging infrastructure, farmers are always looking for the most current, best science available to stay cutting-edge and nimble.
The EPA-endorsed Nutrient Reduction Strategy, developed by Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources, was developed before the DMWW lawsuit; it guarantees that both urban and rural residents will have the best science available, as new techniques are developed. Regulations just for the sake of regulations will only hold back conservation in Iowa.
Despite what Mr. Stowe would have Iowans believe, there is progress in various watersheds across the state. The Hewitt Creek Watershed and Rathbun Lake water initiative are just two examples that have made significant progress over the past 10 years by collaborating and testing which practices work best for their areas. And conservation measures continue to be deployed. One example from my area in northwest Iowa, the Deep Creek Water Quality Initiative Project, seeks to improve drainage and reduce nutrient loading to Iowa’s water and the Gulf of Mexico.
This project, which is funded through a combination of public and private funds, brings together an extensive network of landowners, government agencies and non-governmental organizations to install farming practices that will keep nutrients in the soil.
Iowans are already collaborating to improve water quality on individual farms, in cities and across entire watersheds. We are already bringing together stakeholders from the local, state and federal levels to use the very best technology available to conserve land and water for the next generation. The last thing we need to do is to lay an arbitrary set of rules on hardworking Iowans in order to meet one Des Moines CEO’s requirements.
Though I was disappointed that Judge Bennett decided to push the fundamental questions of the lawsuit to the Iowa Supreme Court, I was heartened to see that he agrees that, as current state law stands, the Des Moines Water Works’ case should be dismissed. We hope the Supreme Court finds the same to be true and that this unnecessary lawsuit is not prolonged any further than necessary as a result.
As those who make our living from the land, farmers understand the responsibility we have to the public. We work every day to ensure that our natural resources will be available for generations to come.
After all, our families live on the land, so it’s in our best interest to take care of it. One person will not hold hostage Iowans intent on cooperation to his own increasingly disjointed demands. Iowans deserve public servants who will look out for their best interests, rather than their own personal agendas. That is why I continue to stand with farmers.
Kass is a Plymouth County supervisor, pork producer and board member of the Iowa Partnership for Clean Water.