- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A citizens group opposed to new rules approved by the Iowa commission regulating water quality filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to stop implementation of the rules.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund and three women who are members of the group filed a petition in Polk County District Court in Des Moines asking a judge to void the rules approved unanimously Tuesday by the nine-member Environmental Protection Commission.

The rules, supported by farm groups, establish new inspection and permit processes for livestock farms but do not impose mandatory permits and other stricter provisions Iowa CCI sought. The rules satisfy an agreement the Iowa Department of Natural Resources signed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September 2013. The deal was struck after the EPA threatened to take over federal Clean Water Act enforcement if state officials didn’t step up livestock farm enforcement.

Iowa CCI wants all farms that spill liquid waste to be required to get a permit and the organization called for a three strikes rule that would shut down farms that repeatedly spill contaminants into rivers or streams.

Iowa, the nation’s leading corn, pork and egg producer, has struggled with cleaning up hundreds of impaired rivers and streams while managing the waste generated by 60 million chickens, 20 million pigs, 9 million turkeys and 4 million cows.

Iowa natural resources director Chuck Gipp said after Tuesday’s vote that state law prevents the agency from implementing rules more stringent than federal clean water rules. He said the rules bring Iowa into compliance with EPA requirements and will require farms that spill manure to fix their problems or get a permit. He expects the rules will improve Iowa’s water quality.

Three Iowa CCI members named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim they have been personally affected by farm pollution.

The complaint said Rita Dvorak, of Riceville, has been forced to spend thousands of dollars to clean pollution in her pond from a neighboring livestock farm when the DNR declined to take action.

It says Rosie Partridge, of Wall Lake, is surrounded by 30,000 hogs that force her family inside at times. “Sometimes, the odor gets so bad that Ms. Partridge’s clothing will retain the smell of pig feces after leaving the area of the odor,” the lawsuit said.

Barb Lang, of Des Moines, says massive algae growths and other side effects of farm runoff have ruined water bodies far downstream from the farms.

The lawsuit said the commission failed to listen to the three women and thousands of other Iowans who called for stricter rules during public hearings.

It also alleges the commission vote was illegal because Commissioners Cindy Greiman, Nancy Couser, Gene Ver Steeg, Max Smith and Brent Rastetter own farming operations that could be financially affected by the rules.

“This lawsuit seeks to invalidate yesterday’s vote by a commission which consists of individuals who clearly had a vested financial interest in the proposal before them,” said Joseph C. Glazebrook, Iowa CCI’s attorney, in a statement. “We believe that when the executive branch of government fails to protect the general public from this type of harm, it is up to the courts to make sure the people’s interests are best served by state government.”

Gipp said a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling upholding a vote by a former EPC commissioner accused of a conflict “makes us very comfortable that they’re well within their legal means to vote on the action they took.”

A DNR spokesman did not immediately return a message for comment.

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