The latest ruling in an Iowa case against Des Moines Water Works represents another win for farmers and the agricultural community.
As we previously posted, in January the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against Des Moines Water Works on certified, state-law questions including whether drainage districts are immune from paying money damages. The case had come to the Iowa Supreme Court after the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Iowa had certified state-law questions. The ruling was a relief for the agricultural community, which had been concerned about the potential for large, economic liability associated with nutrient run-off.
Des Moines Water Works—a public utility—had sued the drainage districts, alleging the districts were responsible for the large quantities of nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River. The utility sought to recover the costs of removing the nitrates. Its claims were numerous and included nuisance, negligence, and trespass. Des Moines Water Works also sought to have the drainage districts deemed a point source under the Clean Water Act, which would mean the districts would be subject to permitting requirements.
After the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of the drainage districts on the certified questions, the rest of the case returned to the federal district court. And on March 17, 2017, the Northern District of Iowa dismissed all of Des Moines Water Works’ remaining state and federal claims against drainage districts in Sac, Buena Vista, and Calhoun counties. The court held that the Des Moines utility lacked standing and could not bring its Clean Water Act claims. It lacked standing because its claims were not redressable since the districts do not possess the power to regulate nitrates or pay damages.
For now, Des Moines Water Works must continue to pay the costs of nitrate removal, and drainage districts avoid regulation under the Clean Water Act.