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Citizen Suit

Citizen Suit

Photo by Jack Wannarka

Citizen Suit

Location: Des Moines Water Works, Des Moines, IA
Featuring: William Stowe (Bill), CEO of Des Moines Water Works

In 2015, the Des Moines Water Works, Iowa’s largest water utility, filed a lawsuit in federal court against TEN upstream drainage districts in three counties, citing that for years fertilizer runoff on agricultural land had leached into local waterways and polluted the drinking water of nearly 500,000 Des Moines residents. The case was a test. Could a federal law, the Clean Water Act of 1972 and its provisions for safe drinking water (SDWA), be used at the local level to compel farmers to change their farming practices? Would the Environmental Protection Agency join the fight?

If Des Moines Water Works prevails in the lawsuit, Iowa’s drainage districts will be regulated under the Clean Water Act as ‘point sources.’ The districts will be required to obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits to discharge pollutants into Iowa’s waterways — just like any other regulated entity. Nationally, these permits have been successful in controlling pollution caused by industrial waste and sanitary sewer discharge. This same success could be achieved by controlling agricultural discharge in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers. Such a landmark ruling could change agriculture across the nation.

“It’s very clear to me that traditional, industrial agriculture has no real interest in taking the steps that are necessary to radically change their operations in a way that will protect our drinking water.”
- Bill

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