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Iowa Supreme Court throws out water quality lawsuit against state

DES MOINES — The Iowa Supreme Court has thrown out a district court ruling that allowed Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Water Watch to sue the state over water quality.

The Supreme Court ruling says it is speculative that a favorable court decision would lead to a more aesthetically pleasing Raccoon River, better swimming, kayaking, and lower water rates in the Des Moines metropolitan area. The ruling says the groups are simply seeking broad, abstract declarations that do not provide any assurance of concrete results.

The 4-3 decision says the remedy sought by the groups is quite general and the environmental groups admit it can only be done through legislation. The ruling says that opens the question “what would the legislation look like” as “there is no free lunch” and there are going to be costs involved in some way.

It says the 2008 Water Quality Improvement Plan that is cited in the petition would only produce a 20% reduction in Raccoon River nitrate levels which would not come close to meeting the 48.1% reduction in nitrate levels that the plaintiffs allege is needed. And it says a reduction in fertilizer application would affect yields and make Iowa farmers less competitive.

The opinion also notes that legislature might decide to charge the costs of efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff to the public rather than just to farmers — which could lead to even higher out-of-pocket expenditures for the plaintiffs’ members.

Here’s the full ruling: Water quality ruling PDF

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