- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A state lawmaker from northwest Iowa plans to propose legislation to block a Des Moines utility’s lawsuit over farm-caused water pollution.

State Sen. Randy Feenstra, a Republican from Hull, said he will ask lawmakers to step in if Des Moines Water Works’ lawsuit against drainage officials in three rural counties isn’t resolved by the time the Legislature convenes in January. But some lawmakers who were asked about Feenstra’s proposal said they would oppose the legislation.

In January, the utility filed the lawsuit claiming that drainage tiles in the three counties act as a conduit, moving fertilizer from farm fields into waterways in Iowa, and contributing to high levels of nitrate in the Raccoon River - a water source for more than 500,000 residents.

Feenstra said he’s “not trying to be an irritant,” but he thinks there’s a better way to solve the dispute than going to court. The state senator believes the drainage districts targeted by the lawsuit weren’t given a chance to avoid litigation. He also believes rural Iowans are doing everything possible to reduce nitrates in water running off farm fields through a voluntary initiative.

“If you look at the code, the Legislature can say, ‘We are going to settle this and we are not going to allow this to happen,’” he said.

Neil Hamilton, director of Drake University’s Agricultural Law Center, has been monitoring the lawsuit. He said he doesn’t believe state lawmakers have the power to interrupt a federal lawsuit, the Des Moines Register (https://dmreg.co/1NGSWS2 ) reported.

“Could they pass a law to stop the lawsuit? I think the simple answer is no,” he said.

Several state lawmakers also agree with Hamilton, because Water Works is seeking enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act, which is outside the jurisdiction of the Iowa Legislature.

Graham Gillette, chairman of the Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees, said there are other ways in which state lawmakers could intervene to end the lawsuit, such as asking the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to issue environmental permits to Iowa drainage districts or to establish a process to issue permits.

Nitrates commonly are used as fertilizer and can cause health problems, especially for infants, if they exceed required standards, according to public health officials.


Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com

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