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Frequent Contributor

Des Moines Water Works to Sue Tile Drainage Districts

The board that runs the Des Moines Water Works voted to start litigation against three northern Iowa counties it views responsible for high levels of nitrates in the city’s main water source.

 

Iowa has a voluntary nutrient reduction strategy in place. Water Works CEO and general manager, Bill Stowe, doesn't believe the voluntary strategy is making a difference. However, Roger Wolf, director of environmental programs for the Iowa Soybean Association, told the board that the agricultural community recognizes that it has a problem with nitrates in the water supply, but he questioned whether a lawsuit would be the most effective way to deal with it. Read more here.

 

What message do you think this will send to farmers? Does anyone have an opinion how this might influence farmer participation with the voluntary program in the future?

 

Thanks!

Kacey

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Senior Advisor

Re: Des Moines Water Works to Sue Tile Drainage Districts

kacey - you are probably witnessing the tip of the iceburg with this action and think not of only Iowa and the DEL-MAR- VA are the only ones witnessing these problems. If you review numerous states records web sites the display of this issue is also a problem that has been " talked about " for a couple of decades with little progress on addressing the issues. Dicussion of this issue is not what any politician wants on their agenda from local boards all the way to the beltway.The word concentraction might be a topic along with exempt .                

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Senior Contributor

Re: Des Moines Water Works to Sue Tile Drainage Districts

If you litigate you need damages to sue for.  The party sued has to be responsible for the damages.

 

Sueing a county?  Is the county responsible for nitrates in the water?  Legally speaking.

 

What are the damages of nitrates in the water supply?  This could vary drastically, couldn't it?  The court would probably require that De Moines has implemented a way of correcting the nitrates.

 

You would then demonstrate that these counties must pay the costs involved with the corrections until another solution is to the problem makes it unnessesary.

 

Otherwise you can't sue for anything.  Unless someone is out of work or you can demonstrate that you have lossed income or property value.

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Senior Contributor

Re: Des Moines Water Works to Sue Tile Drainage Districts

I watched a documentary this morning about the dead zone in the gulf of mexico. Evidently they have been studying for years the impact of pollutants from the mississippi river dumping into the gulf. Different chemicals with nitrates being the worst one. Of course their are other pollutants from those city dwellers as well.

 

The point is the dead zone is expanding as algae does well in those areas but not enough oxygen in the water to support sea life. What I thought was interesting was that during drought years the dead zone contracts which means less nitrates spewing into the gulf when it does rain. There is a huge drainage district that flows out of the mississippi, With all the major agricultural states in the midwest as well as those drained by the Missouri and Arkansas rivers as well. Probably at least half of the continental United States. Thus on drought years there is less water flowing out into the gulf and less nitrates.

 

Eventually we may have to adapt new methods of fertilizing the crop to keep the nitrates from leaching to the water shed.

 

BTW there are fishermen in the gulf that don't like their fishing grounds polluted or killed.

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Senior Advisor

Re: Des Moines Water Works to Sue Tile Drainage Districts

http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2012/mississippi-river-nitrate

 

A quote from the article, "Experts say none of this information provides definitive answers about what is driving the increases. Nitrogen applied to the ground may never even reach the Gulf, depending on weather patterns, vegetation, waterway conditions and many other factors."

 

I thought the above article was informative and relatively unbiased. Still, absent some more extensive sampling and testing, the perceived causes remain generalizations. Are samples taken and tested from both above and below each major tributary and/or each major metropolitan area? Are high tests followed up the tributaries for additional samples and tests?

 

As for the lawsuit -- informed, educated, coordinated actions where appropriate to achieve desired objectives through cooperation of individuals, water districts, municipalities, counties, states and the federal government are apparently needed -- litigation only benefits lawyers.

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Senior Advisor

Re: Des Moines Water Works to Sue Tile Drainage Districts

Out in my neck of the boondocks, our county extension (backed by K-State $) takes water samples quarterly from nearly every creek that has water flowing into the Smoky Hill River.  We've got a few spring fed creeks (I'm fortunate enough to have 2) that continued to run water even during these drought years.  I asked them one day what exactly they were looking for and all they said was pollutants.  They didn't come out and say it, but I gathered they were more concerned with runoff from livestock feeding facilities than from crop ground.  The facilities the are watching are from large scale commercial feeders housing several 10's of thousand animals all the way down to the independent guy feeding just a few head.

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Senior Advisor

Re: Des Moines Water Works to Sue Tile Drainage Districts

WCMO  - I find interesting quotes in the article by experts than again excuse them selves by incerting their favorite words of may - could- and might or might not - how interesting--- . Witnessing this lawsuit is a reaction to inaction ---       

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Senior Advisor

Re: Des Moines Water Works to Sue Tile Drainage Districts

k-289 -- Yes, that's kind of what I was refering to as "generalizations".  They did a lot of testing over the years in various places, then generalized their conclusions without being definitive, except for obvious point sources.  If the nitrate concentration is very high in one location, and very low in another location up or down river, then something is obviously happening in between those two points, which needs more investigation or explanation.  Yes, the large livestock operations, municipal waste, and industrial waste have received attention over the years, yet there is obviously more to the problem due to continued increases in the "dead zone", and variances in concentration measurements.  In the case of high concentrations, they're generalizing the causes based on what makes up most of the drainage area above that location.  Yet, in the case of lower concentrations downriver, there is possibly not that much difference in the make-up of the drainage areas between those locations, perhaps only a difference based on the volume of water.  Logically, regarding the "dead zone", the concentration at certain points upriver is less important than the nitrate volume itself -- high concentrations at low volume might be of less concern than low concentrations at high volume if the amount of total nitrates is higher -- plus, in periods of greater water volume, it's logical that the nitrates are simply being pushed farther out into the gulf, aided by improvements made to water flows for navigational purposes.  That leads me to echo the sentiments that the problem needs multiple, cooperative approaches to resolve over time.  Still, higher nitrate concentrations upriver need attention because of their immediate impact on downriver municipal water supplies and sources.  Perhaps, part of the municipal problems could be better addressed in how they obtain their water, increasing capacities of holding basins, increasing hold times in separated water basins before being treated, etc.  Litigation might speed up or force actions upriver, yet those actions might not be the most reasaonable nor economical solutions for everyone in the long run.

 

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Senior Advisor

Re: Des Moines Water Works to Sue Tile Drainage Districts

This past year several tests have been done from " vadose zone "  in my blue grass lawn, native grass, soybean field , corn fields, and even one in a feed lot where I used to winter calves with very little risidual N (3lbs) to the 28 + foot level. Testing my domestic well having 40+N  - with depth to ground water less than 6 feet and total well depth of 59ft to shale and irrigation well with in the same paramitors ( 1250 gpm ) have any where from 3N -6N the past decade although you go 770 ft. across the road to DEQ mont. wells next to an open lot beef cafo the numbers in the 50 +N to 140+N -and the experts aren't talking. Had a meeting with experts from U. of Nebr. on isotope testing which is now leaning towards a topic of discussion of " new " water vs.  " old " water which shows a move away from later isoytope anaylisis vudeau that we have done in the past with those results being " inconclusive" ?  The response from DEQ after 8 + years being - we need more data --- Inaction  = legal reaction ---     

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Senior Advisor

Re: Des Moines Water Works to Sue Tile Drainage Districts

I guess the next questions would include -- what protections are in place for things like "tile drainage districts", and can their individual board members be held personally liable?  This was actually my first response that I deleted after reading more about it.  Currently serving on a watershed district board, and we've been told that we cannot rule out potential lawsuits against us personally, for watershed district actions/inactions past and present.  As an elected, but unpaid, board member, serving becomes quite a potential risk.  What happens when nobody allows their name to be placed on the ballot?

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