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Des Moines Water Works to Sue Counties

Photo by John Pemble

The board of the state's largest water utility has voted unanimously to sue three northern Iowa counties, holding them responsible for the high nitrate levels in rivers the utility uses for source water. Des Moines Water Works CEO and General Manager Bill Stowe says there have been significant peaks in nitrate levels throughout the last three years.

“Unfortunately in a context where there’s a lot of discussion about volunteerism and conservation practices that will take flight voluntarily by farmers learning more about it,” Stowe says. “We’re still seeing the public water supply in central Iowa directly risked by high nitrate concentrations.”

The five-member board says it will file a notice of intent to sue Calhoun, Buena Vista and Sac counties, which oversee 10 drainage districts that were designed to move water out of farm fields downstream. The suit will allege the drainage districts move contaminants like nitrates the Water Works must remove when levels exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits.

“There is no evidence that the regulatory scheme ultimately sought by Des Moines Water Works will improve water quality,” says Tom Oswald, the president of the Iowa Soybean Association.

A notice of intent Friday notifies the county supervisors and state officials that a lawsuit will be filed in 60 days.



Clay Masters is the senior politics reporter for MPR News.