116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
If the state of Iowa refuses to protect our water, who you gonna call?
Sorry, please hold until the next available state government that gives a damn.
Sadly, there’s really no one to call. The Iowa Supreme Court last week, in a 4-3 ruling, punted a lawsuit by environmental groups suing the state for failing to protect the Raccoon River, a source of drinking water for the city of Des Moines.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch sued the state arguing that it has violated the public trust by permitting agricultural pollution to run off into the Raccoon. Iowa’s entirely voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy isn’t working.
But a court majority found that the groups lacked standing to pursue the suit, using that legal technicality as a get-out-of-controversy-free card. They ruled the plaintiffs’ arguments largely are political, and that it’s not the court’s job to hold government accountable for violating the public trust.
Three justices dissented, arguing the court shouldn’t be so quick to toss out the case before it could sail beyond the judicial “headwaters.” Regardless of what you think of the group’s arguments, they deserved their day in District Court.
But the fight to protect and clean up Iowa’s waterways hasn’t had a good day in years.
The Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature, a wholly owned subsidiary of large agricultural interests, has shown no interest in doing anything meaningful to reduce the flow of nitrates from cropland into Iowa’s rivers, streams and lakes.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an inadequate bill into law in 2017 that throws tens of millions of taxpayer dollars into on-farm runoff reduction with no mechanisms for measuring effectiveness. Her failed effort to fill the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund followed the same playbook.
Her largest campaign donors are livestock barons, who will no doubt be refilling her campaign accounts as she seeks reelection next year.
The Department of Natural Resources this spring gave the green light to an 11,600-head cattle feedlot in the watershed of a trout stream considered one of the state’s “outstanding” waters. DNR Director Kayla Lyon then refused to use her authority to halt the project amid public outcry.
The Environmental Protection Commission is dominated by members tied to agriculture. Among its greatest hits is its refusal to set pollution standards for Iowa lakes too often choked by algae blooms fed by nutrient runoff. Setting such standards, the DNR contends, would lead to costly cleanups. Sorry if your summer outing is ruined by a closed beach.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture, run by Sec. of Agriculture Mike Naig, a former Monsanto lobbyist whose election was boosted by donations from corporate PACs and commodity groups, isn’t going to take your call either.
And now the Supreme Court is ducking for cover as the pollution keeps flowing.
Next year’s election offers some hope. But I doubt you’ll hear Democratic candidates for governor advocating for regulations pushing farmers to adopt conservation practices. They fear alienating rural voters. Never mind that the cost of dirty water and lost recreational opportunities hits rural Iowa particularly hard.
If you’ve got reasons to be more optimistic, let me know. I’ll hold.
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