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No Double Standards

November 27, 2015
by Dan Voigt , Emmetsburg News

Some interesting questions need to be answered about a lawsuit that could have very far-reaching effects on agriculture in Iowa and across the United States. I?reference the lawsuit filed last year by the Des Moines Water Works Board of Directors against Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun Counties over the level of nitrates in waters that eventually enter the Raccoon River.

To explain, the Des Moines Water Works draws the drinking water supply for the majority of the metropolitan Des Moines area from both the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers, but over the past several years, the levels of nitrates in those waters have gradually increased. The Water Works has made a significant investment in treatment equipment to lower the nitrate levels to acceptable levels for consumption, but of course, operating this equipment comes at a price.

The Water Works Board, faced with the cost of operating the nitrate reduction equipment, decided the only thing to do was sue three northern Iowa counties for putting the nitrates in the water through farm drainage. The lawsuit claims that through farmers' use of too much fertilizer and the application of livestock manure, nitrates are carried into drainage systems, such as tiles and open drainage ditches, that run into the Raccoon River all the way down to Des Moines.

While that's a simplified explanation, that's the basic gist of the lawsuit. Since the filing of the suit, the rural counties have mounted a joint defense to the suit. Along with several other counties who share membership in the Iowa Drainage District Association, Palo Alto County has been asked to donate funds to assist in the legal defense against the Water Works lawsuit.

Palo Alto County is no stranger to drainage - with a network of tiles and open ditches, the County Supervisors spend an inordinate amount of time addressing drainage issues, such as repairs or new construction, all in the name of continuing to provide drainage, as required by the Iowa Code.

Recently, the Water Works board announced a large retirement package that it has put together for the current manager of the utility, to be paid in a year when he steps down. The compensation package is quite expansive, almost mind boggling.

The timing of this package is questionable at best.

With the Des Moines Water Works Board filing the original lawsuit because of the increasing costs to operate their nitrate removal equipment, it seems most peculiar that such an outrageous "golden parachute" retirement package doesn't appear to put a strain on their finances.

After the announcement of the retirement package, legal counsel for the defendant counties has asked the Water Works board for financial information about the deal, but for some reason, that information hasn't been forthcoming.

Seems like a bit of a double standard, doesn't it?

"We're going broke removing your nitrates from our water, so we're suing you for the costs, but we're going to pay our manager to stick around another year and then let him retire comfortably."

Why does the old adage - "Don't bite the hand that feeds you," seem so appropriate in this instance?



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