Reaction to Des Moines Water Works Loss of Nitrates Supreme Court Case

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of drainage districts on Friday, meaning Des Moines Water Works won’t see a dime in damages.

Water Works is suing Calhoun, Buena Vista, and Sac counties, saying they have failed to prevent nitrates from running off into the Raccoon River.

The state's highest court ruled that drainage district counties are immune to financial damages, and do not have to pay for the removal of nitrates downstream.

The lawsuit, however, continues in federal court late in June, during which time Des Moines Water Works hopes national law will overrule state law.

“The main difference is the four certified questions were under Iowa law as far as immunities of the drainage districts under Iowa law. What we're talking about in the federal context is the requirement, in our view, that drainage districts as point source polluters should be permitted under the Clean Water Act,” said Water Works CEO Bill Stowe.

Meanwhile, those who represent farmers are praising the ruling, saying it allows farmers to focus on physical ways to clean up the water, not solutions that come out of a courthouse.

“Cover crops have been shown to reduce nitrogen loadings and concentrations by as much as 30%. So there are things we’re doing in the landscape and a litigious scheme, or some type of regulatory scheme, is not nearly as productive than getting boots on the ground in watersheds and doing something that is productive,” said Iowa Soybean Association Communication Director Aaron Putze.

The Iowa Farm Bureau agrees, and says agriculture and water works groups need to work together to solve the pollution problem.

“This litigation has certainly divided people, we hate to see that, but we're pleased the Supreme Court has made the decision they have. We have proven that farmers have been be operating legally,” says Farm Bureau President Craig Hill.

Des Moines Water Works respectfully congratulated their opposition on their legal victory, but says this ruling will hurt their customers.

“The failure of the Supreme Court to ascribe responsibility to the drainage districts and industrial agriculture will put the cost where it has been for all too long, on our rate payers,” said Stowe.

Cleaning up nitrates in the watershed's drinking water has cost Des Moines Water Works millions of dollars, and the company could see over a million dollars in legal fees.

For a full reading of the Supreme Court’s decision, follow this link: