On March 27, 2019, Iowa CCI and Food & Water Watch sued the state of Iowa to hold them accountable to the people of Iowa under the Public Trust Doctrine for its failure to limit pollution from industrial agriculture operations.
There is a well-known, statewide water crisis in Iowa as we have over 760 impaired waterways. However, our lawsuit focuses on a small segment of the Raccoon River - specifically the segment in Polk County from the confluence downtown to the Dallas County line.
Instead of providing regulatory mandates, the state exempts agricultural sources and makes pollution controls of nitrogen and phosphorus voluntary. This abdication of control has created a crisis for Iowa’s waterways.
Why we filed:
Iowans have a right to clean water. We have deep connections to water - we drink it, cook with it, bathe in it, swim in it, and fish in it. Our children and pets play in it. It connects us to the stories of our past. These waterways are places where Iowans come together.Iowans have a right to clean water, and the state has a duty to protect that right. This duty is outlined in the Public Trust Doctrine, which guarantees the public’s right to use and enjoy navigable waters.
Increased water pollution is a danger to our health. The Des Moines Water Works - the trusted water utility for 500,000 Iowans in the Des Moines Metro - expends millions of dollars treating high levels of nitrates in Raccoon River water to meet drinking water standards. In addition, toxic blue-green algae has been detected in the Raccoon River which releases harmful cyanotoxins. High levels of these pollutants are incredibly dangerous to ingest and come in direct contact with, causing anything from skin rashes to cancer to the death of pets. Blue-green algae thrive in lake water and slow-moving, nutrient rich water during the warmer months of the year. Climate change increases both air and water temperatures, and in turn increases the severity of algae proliferation and its impacts to water quality.
Industrial agriculture and factory farming is the number one contributor to Iowa's water pollution. The Raccoon River watershed has scores of large, industrial hog operations that dispose of the hog waste on agricultural land. Synthetic fertilizer is also applied to crops in the watershed. Approximately seventy-three percent of land in the watershed are planted with corn and soybeans while approximately half – 1.15 million acres – have tile drains. The application of manure and fertilizer results in phosphorus and nitrogen entering surface waters through agricultural storm water runoff, soil erosion, and tile drains. The nitrogen runoff results in high levels of nitrates downstream while the nitrogen and phosphorus increases algae.
The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is not working. In 2013, the State adopted the voluntary Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Five years later, the Iowa legislature passed a law to make the voluntary strategy the state’s policy for agricultural water pollution. Iowa’s failure to abide by the Public Trust Doctrine allows agribusiness interests to pass on the costs of dealing with its pollution to the people of Iowa while they pocket profits. Through paying for expensive water treatments, cleaning up a manure spill, or funding a failed voluntary nutrient reduction strategy, taxpayers should not shoulder the burden of water pollution.
We need Iowa to step into bold solutions, not trade our water for short term gains. The state of Iowa must protect Iowans’ right to use the Raccoon River for recreation and a source of drinking water. The state of Iowa must put forth actionable, mandatory solutions designed for widely shared prosperity and stewardship of our natural world. Because the State has failed, we are asking the court to order mandatory water pollution controls and to set a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms in the watershed. Iowans have the right to clean water and we want to preserve the Raccoon River for public use.