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Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation April 2017 Issue
InAgLaw Hdr

Des Moines Water Works Case Dismissed

John Shoup
John Shoup

Our February Spotlight article highlighted a partial ruling on the controversial and significant Iowa case brought by the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW). DMWW had sought monetary and injunctive relief from the upstream drainage districts on claims arising from the cost to remove nitrates from drinking water. DMWW had alleged that agricultural runoff was primarily responsible for elevated nitrate levels. In that ruling the Iowa Supreme Court held that under the Iowa Constitution, DMWW cannot win damages for alleged nitrate pollution against the drainage districts of three Iowa counties.

On March 17, a federal judge dismissed the remainder of the case, holding that issues raised by DMWW are essentially policy arguments better suited for the Iowa legislature rather than the judicial system. The court described the limited duties of drainage districts and the doctrine of “redressability”:

“The drainage districts are creations of Iowa law. In light of the Iowa Supreme Court’s unambiguous description of the limited duties and powers of those districts, I conclude that Counts I and II fail for lack of Article III standing under the doctrine of redressability. Through those counts, DMWW seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties against the drainage districts arising from alleged duties and powers that the districts simply do not possess under Iowa law. DMWW may well have suffered an injury, but the drainage districts lack the ability to redress that injury.”

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