The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Iowa Corn Growers Association have offered to underwrite the legal costs for the defense of the drainage districts targeted in the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit.
Leaders of the utility claim officials in Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac Counties have failed to adequately manage 10 drainage districts in their area, causing nitrate levels in the water downstream to rise to record high levels. Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Hill tells Radio Iowa it is important to back farmers here and across the country.
“This is of national importance, current law needn’t be changed. We have a Clean Water Act that provides for certain exemptions and we believe farmers are exempt from certain circumstances and this lawsuit attempts to change that law,” Hill says. A few months ago supervisors in the targeted counties ended their relationship with the Agricultural Legal Defense fund and Hill says there’s not way for them to raise money.
“The drainage districts are not set up with funding, and actually there’s no dollars there for those farmers to defend themselves,” Hill says. “And so we are going to step in and we’re going to backstop that defense with the appropriate amount of money that will be successful.” The Des Moines Water Works is using money from customers to fund the lawsuit. Hill says the Farm Bureau membership backs the decision to offer the lawsuit funding.
“We’re always very sensitive to our members’ interest, and we had an initial defense fund that was established previously and it was approved and well received and encouraged,” according to Hill. “This defense fund is new…and we’ve continued to have encouragement to defend this suit.”
“I’ve had no criticism or complaints what-so-ever. Quite the opposite. We’ve have a lot of inquiry as to whether we are adequately funding the defense and standing behind our farmers as we should,” Hill says. Hill says the counties can now decided if they want to accept the help.
“That will be their decision, we’re making the offer, we want to provide the funds necessary. We want to make sure the defense is well equipped with the best legal counsel and adequate funding,” Hill says. “The offer is there for those drainage districts and their acceptance is up to them — one or all three counties.” Hill says farmers have been working for more than a decade to reduce nitrogen runoff and taking them to court doesn’t help.
“We see this suit actually as putting in peril some of the progress we’ve made. And we think this suit provides no benefit. The benefits will be and are currently attained through putting practices on the land — through conservation — which farmers are doing,” he says. “We are currently requesting funding from all sources who are able to assist in that.”
The Farm Bureau says the costs of the lawsuit for both sides combined have exceeded two million dollars. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in June of 2017.