Gary Worthan

Gary Worthan

A member of the Iowa House says managers of the Des Moines Water Works have insulted “every family farmer in northwest Iowa” by threatening to sue three counties over nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River.

The utility has given notice it will file a lawsuit against county supervisors in Calhoun, Buena Vista and Sac Counties, charging they’ve failed to properly manage drainage districts in their area. Two of the three counties are represented in the Iowa House by Republican Gary Worthan, a farmer from Storm Lake.

“This lawsuit is wrong,” Worthan says. “The approach is wrong. It’s time for the Des Moines Public Water Works to reel in their legal beagles and put ’em back on the leash, to stow the vitriolic rhetoric.”

Worthen’s use of the word “stow” is a reference to Bill Stowe, the CEO and general manager of the Des Moines Water Works. Stowe has been arguing that the voluntary approach to ensuring the nitrogen fertilizer farmers apply to their fields doesn’t wind up in the water supply is not working and it’s time to pursue legal action. Worthen says farmers want the nitrates and phosphorus they apply to stay on the field and he says Stowe would be better off trying to work with farmers to find solutions rather than sue.

“Every pound of nitrogen that comes down that river represents an expense of 50 to 80 cents per pound to some agriculturalist in northwest Iowa. Every pound of phosophorus probably represents a costs twice that amount,” Worthan says. “There’s no one up in northwest Iowa in the Raccoon River watershed intentionally sending nutrients down the river.”

Worthan made his remarks during a sometimes emotional speech on the House floor on Tuesday. He even talked of the blood he and his ancestors have shed while working the farm near Storm Lake that’s been in his family since 1878.

“And to have someone insinuate that I would intentionally send that legacy down the river due to bad farming practices, it’s an affront to me,” Worthan said, “and it’s an insult to every family farmer in northwest Iowa.”

AUDIO of Worthan’s remarks

Stowe, the general manager of the Des Moines Water Works, says polluters should be held accountable, whether they’re in the city or the country and he points to the thousands of dollars that must be spent removing nitrates from Raccoon River water before it can be distributed as drinking water to his customers. The utility cites record nitrate levels in each of the past four months and alleges that drainage districts in the three northwest Iowa counties are violating the federal Clean Water Act.