Iowa Supreme Court hears arguments in Water Works case

September 15, 2016

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday on certified questions in the Des Moines Water Works suit of three upstream counties it alleges are responsible for heavy nitrate loading at its drinking water plant. The court examined specific questions key to Water Works’ case, including whether drainage districts can be sued or whether they have immunity. The justices were also interested in what remedy and to what extent a remedy should be applied, should the suit move forward. If the court rules the districts to be sued, also at issue is whether Water Works can then collect monetary damages. The court only dealt with state law claims, not the federal Clean Water Act, which can move forward independently. The court will decide whether these claims can move forward in District Court.

This lawsuit, along with the State’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, are among the factors driving the focus on water quality in the Legislature. Gov. Terry Branstad has been strongly pushing for a long-term source of water quality funding to help reduce nutrients in Iowa’s waterways. The Legislature considered water quality funding legislation last session, with the House passing a water quality bill. The Senate did not consider it, and no agreement was reached. Water quality will continue to be a legislative focus next session.