Supreme Court Rules Against Des Moines Water Works

The Iowa Supreme Court says the Des Moines Water Works cannot win any damages in a lawsuit against the drainage districts in three northwest Iowa counties.

The Des Moines Water Works sued, saying officials in Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac Counties have failed to adequately manage drainage districts in their area… causing nitrate levels in the water downstream to rise to record high levels, and costing them millions to treat the water. The lawsuit says the drainage districts should not be given immunity because they do not provide a benefit to public health.

The Supreme Court ruling… announced Friday morning… says the drainage districts do provide a public benefit and are immune from damages. The ruling says the case is about who pays for the nitrate removal, not about health as it says the Water Works does not claim the nitrates make the water unsafe for swimming or fishing. The Supreme Court says the legislature should decide who pays the cost of removing the nitrates.

The majority opinion was authored by Justice Thomas Waterman… who stated “ultimately, this case is about who pays for nitrate removal from the drinking water.” He states “it is for the legislature to decide whether to reallocate the costs of nitrate reduction.”

The case in federal court brought against the three counties is expected to continue… as the Des Moines Water Works is also seeking regulation of the drainage districts under the federal Clean Water Act. That portion of the lawsuit is unaffected by the Supreme Court ruling… with trial still scheduled for this July.