Des Moines Water Works to Sue Over Nitrates

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees voted unanimously to sue boards of supervisors in three rural counties; Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun, under the Clean Water Act.

Mark Kenney farms about 2,800 acres of land in rural Story County. He worries about what this lawsuit will mean for farmers.  "I'm the fifth generation to farm here in Story County so agriculture farming is very near and dear to my heart. It's our way of life. And as a farmer I see my role as a caretaker of the land."

Board members say talks with the governor's office failed to put measures in place to reduce nitrate levels.  "The governor's office fails to see we would not be seeking this expensive and time consuming effort if the governor's strategy showed promise of working," says chairman of the board of trustees Graham Gillette.

Water Works CEO Bill Stowe agrees. "There isn't even a basic understanding and appreciation for the danger that we face as providers of safe drinking water to you as central Iowans," Stowe said.

Des Moines Water Works dealt with record high levels of nitrates over the past couple of years from the Raccoon River, leading it to operate its nitrate removal facility continuously for 97-days at a cost to ratepayers of about $900,000. The board believes the high nitrates come from farm fertilizer runoff.

"Our water stinks." says Bob Wessel, who supports the lawsuit, "Take a glass of it and leave it remain overnight, and smell it."

Opponents of the lawsuit say water monitoring shows otherwise.

"They're showing a decrease in nitrates over the past 15-years," Ben Gleason of Iowa Corn says, "So occasionally we have these spikes like this winter. A weather phenomenon and those nitrates are coming down from the breakdown of organic matter, not fertilizer that was applied."

Kenney says he just wants the lawyers and the lawmakers to stay out of it, and let farmers work to reduce nitrate levels. "It takes time," Kenney says, "So slapping a lawsuit after 60 days of somewhat discussion I think is troublesome."

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