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Iowa Supreme Court Will Decide Whether Water Quality Lawsuit Proceeds

Iowa Judicial Branch Building
John Pemble
/
Iowa Public Radio
State attorneys want justices to dismiss the lawsuit, but attorneys for the groups behind the suit say the state constitution requires lawmakers to protect the public’s right to use the river for recreation and drinking water.

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case that challenges the legislature’s voluntary approach to regulating nutrient pollution in the Raccoon River from farm runoff.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch filed the lawsuit in March 2019. They claim a water quality funding law passed 2018 that was centered on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy does too little to reduce nutrient pollution from livestock manure and fertilizer and that the courts should require mandatory measures.

State attorneys are appealing a Polk County District Court decision to not dismiss the case. Solicitor general Jeffrey Thompson told the justices that allowing a court to make water quality regulations mandatory would violate separation of powers. He said voluntary regulation is not the same as no regulation.

“The Nutrient Reduction Strategy that was embraced by SF 512 is not a do-nothing policy,” Thompson said. “It just doesn’t directly regulate non-point source runoff. But it’s replete with all kinds of reporting and funding incentives and economic incentives to try and address this issue.”

Brent Newell, an attorney representing the groups behind the lawsuit, said the state constitution requires lawmakers to protect the public’s right to use the river for recreation and drinking water.

“The legislature has doubled down and declared voluntary (mitigation) to be the official policy of the state,” Newell said. “The public’s use of this river is being substantially impaired now. It’s polluted, severely.”

Newell asked the justices to uphold the lower court’s ruling and clear the case to proceed to trial.