State agencies should be required to take greater steps to improve water quality in the Raccoon River according to a new lawsuit filed Wednesday by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food and Water Watch.
The river provides drinking water for much of the Des Moines area, but it often carries excessive levels of nutrients from the farm fields that drain into it.
Iowa CCI member Patti McKee of Des Moines said she pays for the cost of removing nitrates in her water bill.
“Those who pollute our water should pay to clean it up,” McKee said at the lawsuit announcement outside the Capitol. “There needs to be a mandate of proven methods to clean up our water.”
The lawsuit calls for stricter measures to reduce nutrient pollution, including limits on nitrogen and phosphorous in the Raccoon River watershed and a moratorium on new and expanded concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.
The state’s nutrient reduction strategy is meant to improve water quality through voluntary farm practices that limit fertilizer runoff such as cover crops and grass buffer strips. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said the state should stick with that plan.
“While we are disappointed to learn about this lawsuit, we remain committed to implementing the Nutrient Reduction Strategy,” Naig said in a statement. “We’re focused on making measurable progress on soil conservation and water quality across the state.”
Iowa Soybean Association CEO Kirk Leeds said while he would like to see faster progress on water quality, he is concerned the lawsuit would mandate conservation practices that are unaffordable for some farmers. He said the downturn in the farm economy makes it harder for producers to invest in new conservation techniques and state funding hasn’t made up the difference.
“Farmers can and should be making investments on their fields but many of the practices that are going to have the most impact for downstream users are going to have to be a shared expense between the public and the private,” Leeds said.
A lawsuit from the Des Moines Water Works that attempted to force drainage districts in northwest Iowa to account for nitrate contamination in the Raccoon River was dismissed in federal court in March 2017.