Home News Farm groups respond to Des Moines Water Works' runoff lawsuit

Farm groups respond to Des Moines Water Works' runoff lawsuit

DES MOINES, Iowa – Following a unanimous vote Tuesday by the Des Moines Water Works to proceed with its lawsuit concerning runoff in the Raccoon River, Iowa commodity groups have begun to react to the decision.

In a statement distributed to reporters at the meeting Tuesday, farm groups argued that Des Moines Water Works officials failed to consider the complexity of issues surrounding nonpoint pollution, which according to the statement are not significantly affected by applications of fertilizer. It further stated that the decision undermines the relationship between the water utility and farmers upstream.

That message was a joint statement released by the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Poultry Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa State Dairy Association and Iowa Turkey Federation.

In a press release out Wednesday morning, the Iowa Soybean Association underscored its investments of more than $40 million dollars into better farm productivity and profitability, which it says emphasizes water quality by way of nutrient retention.

In a release also out Wednesday, the Iowa Corn Growers Association argues the lawsuit is “unproductive,” and will take resources away from current projects to improve water quality.

The Des Moines Water Works’ lawsuit will be filed in federal district court for Iowa’s northern district by Friday.

You can read the press releases from the various commodity groups below.

Joint Statement

Farm, water quality stakeholders unified in opposition to Des Moines Water Works lawsuit

(ANKENY, Iowa – March 10, 2015) The announcement by Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) to pursue legal action against drainage districts in three Iowa counties reveals a startling disconnect from the scope and complexity of nonpoint water issues. It risks slowing the momentum of the nationally recognized Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy implemented with bipartisan legislative support in 2013.

Nitrate levels in Iowa rivers are complex, fluctuating with weather and soil fertility but not significantly affected by fertilizer application rates or management. Our weather and nutrient-rich soils, which are ideal for growing plants, dominantly influence what happens in Iowa’s waters.

Merely enacting regulation will do nothing to improve water quality. We will remain focused on empowering farmers and landowners to select and use scientifically proven practices that can have a real impact on water quality, which benefits all Iowans.

Today’s decision undermines the strong relationship that once existed between Iowa’s largest water utility and farmers upstream. However, the DMWW litigation will not distract us from collaborative efforts that bring continual improvements in water quality.

Iowa Soybean Association

Farmers, Iowa Soybean Association implement Raccoon River water quality projects
Investments stands in stark contrast to lawsuit filed by state’s largest water utility

Ankeny, Iowa – Tuesday’s decision by the Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees to sue the boards of supervisors in Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties for allegedly allowing nitrates from 10 drainage districts they oversee to pollute the Raccoon River, a primary source water for the utility, won’t deter environmental efforts in the region.

Roger Wolf, ISA’s Environmental Programs and Services (EPS) director, says the organization’s commitment to environmental and agronomic performance is steadfast and will be for decades to come.

Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe has repeatedly said the lawsuit is necessary to protect the utility’s 500,000 customers because farmers and the state won’t take necessary steps to improve water quality, and voluntary conservation efforts are a failure.

That’s simply not the case, Wolf says. The ISA has invested more than $40 million — a combination of Soybean Checkoff, public and private funds — since 2001 in EPS and On-Farm Network® programs to help farmers be more productive and profitable in a sustainable way. A big emphasis is nutrient retention, which effects water quality.

“We’re owning these issues,” Wolf said. “ISA Board members, through strategic investments, have made water quality and soil health a priority. It’s a responsibility to the community we take seriously.”

The ISA is one of more than 30 partners in three watershed demonstration projects — two are in counties involved in the lawsuit — recently announced by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. They include:

The Elk Run Watershed Water Quality Initiative (WQI) Project — Sac, Carroll and Calhoun counties
Headwaters North Raccoon River — Buena Vista and Pocahontas counties
Leading a New Collaborative Approach to Improving Water Quality in the Squaw Creek Watershed — Story, Boone and Hamilton counties

The demonstration watershed projects cover nearly 275,000 acres, and join 13 other WQI initiatives statewide. The projects will implement and demonstrate the effectiveness and adaptability of a host of conservation practices including cover crops, nutrient management, wetlands, terraces, bioreactors, buffer strips, no-till, strip-till and nitrogen inhibitors, among other in-field and edge-of-field practices.

The Iowa Water Quality Initiative will provide $1.4 million to the three new projects, coupled with matching funds, during the next three years.

ISA member and Calhoun County Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner Brent Johnson encourages farmers to participate in the projects. He farms 900 acres and operates a crop consulting business near Manson.

“We definitely need to be engaged in the process,” Johnson said. “Farmers are always looking for ways to be more sustainable.”

ISA is involved in most of the watershed projects statewide. The EPS and On-Farm Network teams provide a variety of services from conservation planning, implementation and water monitoring to data collection, interpretation and replicated strip trials.

Iowa Corn Growers Association

Corn Farmers Disappointed in Water Works Lawsuit

JOHNSTON, Iowa – March 11, 2015 – The Des Moines Water Works has elected to pursue expensive and unproductive litigation against farmers and their drainage districts more than 100 miles from Des Moines. Iowa corn farmers are very disappointed in this shift away from a collaborative, results-oriented model that has been the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) gold standard for improving water quality. This litigation will cause scarce resources to be reallocated away from current projects without any guarantee of improving our waters.

Iowa’s climate and rich soils are the main factors in the nutrient fluctuations in our rivers. “Farms and growing seasons are certainly not all alike,” said Jerry Mohr, a farmer from Eldridge and president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA). “By embracing the best science and relying on years of experience, each farmer adds to the collaboration that results in measurable benefits to Iowa’s water.” The Des Moines Water Works lawsuit implies an unrealistic ‘one size fits all’ legal solution will improve water quality.

“Iowa farmers are very aware of the role they play in our state’s quality of life. Working together has, and always will be, the best way to achieve long-term solutions.” explained Mohr. Farmers are focused on continuous conservation improvements to mitigate the unpredictability of weather. Iowa Corn has partnered with farmers and agricultural stakeholders in the following projects targeted at improving water quality for all Iowans:

Invested in research for a nitrogen use efficiency trait for corn. This allows more bushels of corn to be grown with the same amount of nitrogen fertilizer which has potential water quality benefits.

Partnered with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and funded research at Iowa State University to document the effectiveness of in-field and edge-of-field nutrient management practices.

Provided research dollars to the Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council, which is enhancing the role of ag retailers and crop advisors to accelerate the adoption of on-farm water quality practices.

Established the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance and invested dollars to advance the nutrient reduction strategy, promote adoption of conservation practices, and support research and credible data to show progress.

Supported the National Corn Growers Association’s Soil Health Partnership, which has established a network of demonstration farms to evaluate the economic and environmental benefits of soil health practices.