Iowa City community members fight for right to clean water in state court

The abundance of factoring farming and manure contamination caused by hogs has led to pollution in Iowa's waterways, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is taking its case to Iowa's courts to challenge the state to take action.


Alyson Kuennen

Iowa State Policy Organizing Director for the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvment, Adam Mason, poses for a portrait at Catholic Worker House on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. The ICCI is working with other organizations to advocate for cleaner water across Iowa. (Alyson Kuennen/The Daily Iowan)

Annie Fitzpatrick, News Reporter

The state of Iowa is experiencing a water crisis that is affecting people and animals across the state, and while the state is trying to remedy the state of emergency that Iowa is in, citizens are taking action on their own.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is an organization focused on addressing issues that Iowans face. In particular, it has played a key role in addressing Iowa’s water crisis at both state and community levels.

At the end of March, the organization and Food & Water Watch filed a lawsuit against the state under the public-trust doctrine saying the state was failing in its duty to protect the natural resources of Iowa, particularly focusing on water issues, said the group’s state policy director, Adam Mason.

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“Iowa’s state regulations and laws on the permitting of factory farms are very, very weak,” Mason said. “That’s why we … have the most hogs in the nation that are housed in factory farms.”

Mason, who works with the farm and environment teams at Citizens for Community Improvement, said the focus has been around corporate agriculture and the factory farming industry in Iowa. The state has more than 10,000 factory farms housing 26 million hogs that produce 22 billion gallons of manure, Mason said. This untreated manure is then dumped on farm fields and often finds its way to waterways in Iowa, he said.

The Raccoon River, which runs through both Polk County and Dallas County, has been heavily impaired from the water crisis resulting from factory farming, Mason said.

“That used to be a source of recreation for folks … And it’s also a source of drinking water for the Des Moines Metro area,” he said. “So for more than 500,000 folks, this is one of the sources of their drinking water.”

The state and Attorney General Tom Miller have filed a motion to dismiss the case from Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch, but Mason said this was expected. The organization is forming a rebuttal for the state, which is due within 10 days of the motion to dismiss, he said.

“We’re confident that the case will move forward, that we’ve got solid legal grounding,” Mason said.

Citizens for Community Improvement member Virginia Meyer, who joined the organization seven years ago, was recently able to travel to Washington to work with members of the Sunrise Movement, whose focus is on combating climate change. While in Washington, Meyer and other activists occupied Sen. Joni Ernst’s office in addition to speaking about environmental issues.

“We have not been stewards of our land,” Meyer said. “We have not paid attention to the ecological needs, we have let extractive industries come into our state. I’m not against farmers … but it’s not sustainable.”

Iowa City resident and 100 Grannies member Aaron Silander said the condition of Iowa’s water breaks her heart.

“I’m concerned with the issue of feeding operations, both because they’re inhumane but largely because they’re polluting our Earth, and water, and our air … we can’t sustain this, there’s no way,” she said.

Mason said that although it is important to win in the courtroom, it is just as important to win the public’s opinion in regards to the water crisis Iowa is facing because of factory farming.

“We want more Iowans who … are concerned about Iowa’s water crisis, to be talking to their neighbors and friends and folks at coffee shops and church and in their communities about just how bad Iowa’s water has gotten and what we can actually do to clean it up,” he said.

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