Iowa Supreme Court rejects challenge on Raccoon River water quality

Neil Hamilton is the former director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center and professor emeritus at Drake University law school. He submitted an amicus curiae brief in this case on behalf of several Drake law professors, who urged the Iowa Supreme Court to define the political question doctrine narrowly in order to preserve “citizen’s access to the courts of Iowa for the vindication of their constitutional rights.”

In a closely decided 4-3 split ruling the Iowa Supreme Court rejected a case filed by Iowa Citizens for Community Action and Food and Water Watch alleging the state of Iowa failed to protect the interests of the public in the Raccoon River. The case involved an appeal from the Polk County District Court rejection of the state’s motion to dismiss the case. 

The majority ruled the district court’s decision should be reversed and the case dismissed, concluding the plaintiffs do not have standing to bring the suit, and their effort to use the public trust doctrine to establish the duty of state officials is a “nonjusticiable political question.” The majority’s ruling and analysis generated three separate dissenting opinions, all agreeing the case should move forward, in large part because the state had conceded the plaintiffs had standing and the merits of the public trust doctrine were not in question.

A reading of the majority opinion shows it was premised on a determination by the four justices to not involve the Court in the difficult and controversial political issues involving water quality in Iowa. This motivation was demonstrated in at least four ways:

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A new vision for Iowa agriculture and Iowans

John Norwood is a Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner.

These are my prepared remarks from the June 17 event announcing the Central Iowa Water Quality Infrastructure Project. I initiated a new bundled approach with the help of many others after attending an agricultural field day several years ago, where I wondered, how we could improve our effectiveness? Polk County, state, and federal government agencies are involved with the project; Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig also spoke at Thursday’s kickoff.

The program is novel because Polk County is moving from single installations that used to require each landowner hiring a contractor, to batch installations of 50 and next year more than 100, using a general contractor bidding approach run by the county. The Soil and Water Conservation District actively targets sites using mapping technology and direct landowner outreach to secure participation, as opposed to waiting for landowners to come forward. The county, state, and municipal sources provided 100 percent cost share, and the installation is largely turnkey for the participants.

Secretary Naig, my fellow commissioners, partners, members of the media, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen:

I appreciate the opportunity to join you all today to celebrate this innovative ground-breaking, systematic approach to getting things done. This strategy was born from a chance meeting with Charlie Schafer at a field day several years ago, me asking a lot of questions out of curiosity, followed by several coffee conversations, where together we began to reimagine a new way for delivering conservation infrastructure at scale. And then we widened the circle to include other key players in the conversation who built on the vision and drove it forward with the help of many others. Two of whom you will hear from in a few minutes.

First let me note that this type of locally led effort can be tailored whether we are delivering water quality infrastructure or soil health systems. If the strategies are scalable, turnkey, and targeted, the impact can be magnified many times. What we do in Polk County can be replicated in any of our other 98 counties, and as a “learning organization” that is how my District can support a larger effort. Stay tuned.  

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Open letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan

Mike Tramontina is a lifelong Iowan who enjoys paddling and fishing in Iowa’s rivers and streams even though they are “unfishable” and “unswimmable.” -promoted by Laura Belin

May 5, 2021

Dear Administrator Regan:

It was very disappointing to read the Des Moines Register news article about your visit to Des Moines. While it is good that you joined the announcement of the demolition and redevelopment of the Dico site, you then went to meet with agricultural leaders to learn about the ethanol industry and livestock production. The disappointment was not making time to even take a question about Iowa’s filthy water and disgusting air.

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Earth Day 2021: Iowa needs more nature imagination

Neil Hamilton shares remarks he delivered on “Iowa needs more nature imagination: Lessons from our missed opportunities at the Des Moines Area Community College Earth Day event on April 22. -promoted by Laura Belin

It is a pleasure to be with you as we celebrate Earth Day 51. Unfortunately, festivities for Earth Day 50 came and went with hardly a whisper, a casualty of our unfolding COVID pandemic. But even as our attention was drawn to the challenges we faced – the power of nature and being outdoors continued working on our lives. There are many lessons we will take from this shared experience but among the most significant is how it reaffirmed the valuable role nature plays in keeping us healthy and sane.

That is why it is fitting on Earth Day 51 as we emerge from our cocoons – we use this opportunity to think critically about our future with Iowa’s land and water. To do so it is important to consider some history – especially some of our most significant lost opportunities – and identify any lessons for the years ahead. The good news is we have a legion of conservation champions working to protect nature in Iowa and the ranks are growing.

The bad news we are still in the minority and face stiff headwinds.

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The Iowa land ethic

Editor’s note: Paul W. Johnson died on February 15, 2021. His family wanted to share the text of these previously unpublished remarks, delivered to the Iowa Environmental Council’s Annual Conference on October 11, 2013. Paul was introduced by Ralph Rosenberg and recorded by Matt Hauge. Mike Delaney shared this text in a February 16, 2021 special edition of the email “Raccoon River Watershed Association News.”

I can’t help but comment on Ralph; he was the chair of our Energy and Environmental Protection Committee for years in the Iowa legislature when I was there, and when David [Osterberg] was there. We had a wonderful time–it was almost Camelot–we couldn’t do anything wrong. Whatever we wanted to do Ralph would guide us and we got it done. We did REAP [Resource Enhancement and Protection]; we did energy efficiency we did groundwater protection, a number of things, and it was a lot of fun. And it was bipartisan believe it or not; we really worked together.

We had a unanimous vote on REAP in the Iowa House of Representatives. I think there were 98 members there that day, and everyone voted for it, so it was a good time, and I often think back on those times as some of the best times of my life.

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