Lawsuit Filed for Controls in IA’s Raccoon River Watershed

April 4, 2019

On March 27 environmental groups renewed their effort to get the courts to curtail animal agriculture in Iowa and impose mandatory nutrient management permitting on farmers.  This latest lawsuit, filed in Iowa state court, follows a defeat suffered by the Des Moines Water Works’ in federal district court in 2017.  That litigation sought to force federal Clean Water Act permits on farmers’ use of nitrogen fertilizers in the Raccoon River Watershed.

This recent lawsuit uses a new strategy to attain the same end.  The suit seeks a jury trial in Iowa court to decide if state public agency officials have failed to protect the public trust and interest in the safe use the Raccoon River for recreation and as a source of drinking water.  Should the jury agree with this claim, the environmental groups have asked the court to force Iowa to (1) pay their legal fees, and (2) stop the construction and operation of new and expanding CAFOs in the Raccoon River watershed and (3) to impose limits on farmers’ use of nitrogen and phosphorus.  The two organizations that filed the suit are Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food and Water Watch.

While this new litigation is not a surprise, Iowa agriculture still found the news disheartening, given agriculture’s effort in partnership with state agencies to implement Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy which has been underway for a few years.  Farmers know that lawsuits don’t fix water quality.  Helping farmers find effective, practical and affordable solutions is what is required.

State government officials have yet to respond formally to the suit, but Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig noted that despite the lawsuit they “remain committed to implementing the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. We’re focused on making measurable progress on soil conservation and water quality across the state.”  Iowa farmers echoed these same sentiments.  UEP will keep members posted on further developments in this litigation.