A Different Approach to the Water Quality Debate in Iowa

My newsfeed this past week has been dominated by blog posts, stories and opinions about the Des Moines Water Works threat to file a lawsuit stating that non-point runoff from three Iowa counties affects water customers in Des Moines.

The situation is complicated. I get it. I get it because I live on both sides of the debate. I am both sides. I’m a customer of Des Moines Water Works, so the water my kids drink every day is the subject at hand. I am also a farmer who works hard to protect the environment and its resources. As a customer, I have the right to depend on safe, clean drinking water for my family. As a farmer, it’s my livelihood to provide safe and accessible nutrition to families who buy our products.

While the situation may be complicated, the approach to finding a solution doesn’t have to be. Moving forward with litigation will create opposing “sides” to an issue that needs the best thinking and the best intentions from all interested parties.

The whole situation reminds me of the hundreds of times my kids have come to me demanding that I take a side when they aren’t getting along. “She wrecked my stuff,” or “He isn’t sharing.” Sound familiar? Instead of talking to each other and trying to work it out themselves, they skip right over that part and run to me as the parent and demand that I fix it.

Before anyone goes running to a court of law demanding that they fix the situation, why don’t we take our own advice – the advice we readily dish out to our kids – and try to work together to find a solution?

Ask any student at my daughter’s Kindergarten class how they should act, and they will reply with, “Be Safe. Be Respectful. Be Responsible.” The same principles apply to this situation. We all want and deserve safe, clean drinking water. And both Des Moines Water Works and farmers have a part in making that happen. But pointing fingers and threatening lawsuits isn’t respectful to anyone.

Like many farmers, we have made changes to our farm over the past couple of decades to help protect the environment. Farmers across the state are using the latest science for things like cover crops and conservation tillage to protect our valuable resources.

An example how we have restructured and created new grass waterways within our fields to prevent soil erosion and protect water quality.

An example how we have restructured and created new grass waterways within our fields to prevent soil erosion and protect water quality.

The efforts of farmers to improve water quality are making a difference. The Iowa Soybean Association has collected and analyzed thousands of water samples from the Raccoon River over the past 15 years, and those samples show decreases in nitrate concentrations. The voluntary efforts of farmers and the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy are having a positive impact.

There’s never a shortage of work on the farm. Farmers aren’t saying they’re perfect; they are saying that continuous improvement is a top priority. Based on the research, the numbers tell us we’re headed in the right direction. Best case scenario from my point of view is that farmers and the leaders at Des Moines Water Works start a conversation so we can learn from each other, using the best science we can get our hands on, and at the end of the day, confidently raise our water glasses together.

What do you think is the best approach to this situation?

Want more information on this issue? Here are some other resources:

  • Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance
  • Iowa Farm Bureau – Conservation Counts
  • Iowa Soybean Association
  • A farmer’s perspective – Katie Olthoff from of On the Banks of Squaw Creek

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