Water quality summit


Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, last week called for a state water quality summit to be held after the November elections to chart a bipartisan legislative strategy. The state’s top Democrat found agreement during the “Iowa Press” program aired last weekend on Iowa Public Television with House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake. It is gratifying to hear leading Iowa politicians talking sense about how to help the Tall Corn State wade out of the political and legal morass over polluted surface water that pits agriculture against the environment.

 “Everybody’s talking past each other,” Gronstal said. “So far, everybody’s talking unilaterally. It requires people to sit down at the table and work through some of these issues.”

Hallelujah! This has been our point all along.

The Des Moines Water Works and the three Northwest Iowa counties enjoined in a federal lawsuit are Example A. There has been absolutely no attempt for these two sides to mediate their dispute over pollution of the Raccoon River. The water works is set on a course to make law. The counties lawyered up through a secret slush fund managed in Des Moines with hundreds of mystery donors. Why settle when you can fight?

You can only fight so long as you can afford it.

The counties can’t afford it, now that the secret slush fund has dried up for fear of having to expose itself. The water works really can’t afford it by jacking up rates. The people of Iowa can’t afford to cripple production agriculture and they cannot abide the worst surface water pollution in America.

Gronstal provides the opening for a mediated settlement.

Gather the state’s political leaders — Gov. Branstad, Gronstal, Upmeyer, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, DMWW Chairman Graham Gillette and CEO Bill Stowe, the three chairpersons for the boards of supervisors in Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun counties and one county attorney (we’re thinking Buena Vista County Attorney Dave Patton, who can see both sides of the issue) — in Storm Lake for the second week in November. We would suggest hiring experienced mediator Hugh Perry, an amiable Storm Lake attorney, or someone like him to keep the talks moving forward.

Storm Lake is the very epicenter of the entire water quality debate — a lake under dredging to remove farmland, huge livestock processing plants that live off the corn-soybean rotation, the headwaters of the Raccoon River at Marathon, thousands of immigrants drawn here by agribusiness, legions of commercial fertilizer retailers and applicators. You name it, Storm Lake is ag, environment and rural enterprise central.

The water works’ lawsuit against the counties has been delayed from its initial August bench trial in front of a federal judge. By mid-November, we should have a clearer direction where the litigation is headed. It may be an opportune time to bring the parties together to settle the lawsuit if they cannot find a way before then.

No doubt, this is beyond what Gronstal is thinking. He seeks a political solution among many on the table. But we cannot have a political solution without first having a legal solution to the case at hand, it would seem to us. Throwing money at water quality projects will not necessarily solve the problem of providing clean drinking water and an efficient sustainable agriculture (which sustains the environment and producers).

That’s why leadership is so important in bringing people together. Gronstal is providing it by attempting to get people to talk to each other, and not past each other.