Des Moines sues local counties for water pollution

January 21, 2015

Des Moines, Iowa is cracking down on three neighboring counties for drinking water pollution. The Des Moines Water Works will be taking action against county governments for not managing farms responsible for depositing large amounts of nitrate, via fertilizer runoff, in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers.

Fertilizer runoff from farms is largely unregulated in the United States, and can cost states in health and clean-up costs. Des Moines Water Works was forced to spend nearly $1 million on nitrate filtration when water supplies became contaminated. High levels of nitrates in drinking water are especially harmful for infants under 6 months.

NPR reports that Bill Stowe, general manager of the Des Moines Water Works, told Iowa Public Radio last week that "we are seeing the public water supply directly risked by high nitrate concentrations." Stowe says it is inarguable that nearby farms are the source of the nitrates.

Farmers use nitrogen fertilizers, which is then turned into nitrates when they go to work on soil and crops. These nitrates eventually seep into underground pipes that join up with streams, part of a drainage system usually managed by local governments. The Des Moines Water Works believes these governments should now be held responsible for pollution.

The lawsuit focuses on Sac County, Buena Vista County and Calhoun County. "We need to get down to specific steps that they need to take. If they aren't willing, we'll see them in federal court," Stowe said.

Environmental consultants can help businesses and government agencies conduct risk assessments regarding issues of human health and ecology. Consultants will help develop specific corrective actions for each individual site to deal with soil and water contamination, and also help put forward strategies to prevent problems before they begin.