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Water Utility That Dared Challenge Farm Pollution Says Big Ag Is Trying to Destroy It

Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe says there’s a word for an Iowa bill that proposes to dissolve the utility he’s overseen for four years: retribution.

Two years ago, Des Moines Water Works sued three farm-heavy Iowa counties located upstream from the city for costs of filtering nitrogen the utility claims came from the farms. The state Supreme Court ruled against the utility in January, and a federal trial is set for June.

But Stowe said Iowa’s mighty agribusiness interests are seeking justice of a different form by pushing legislation that would eliminate the utility altogether as revenge for the legal action.

“It’s clear to me the bill is intended to get at us because of our lawsuit,” Stowe told HuffPost on Wednesday. “It sends its own message: Don’t step in the way of Big Ag, or you’ll suffer the consequences. That has a huge, chilling impact on civil discourse.”

The legislation, introduced last month, would dissolve existing independent water utilities in Des Moines, as well as in the neighboring suburbs of West Des Moines and Urbandale, and replace them with city departments under control of city councils.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Jarad Klein, has deep connections to the state’s powerful agriculture interests. Klein, a farmer whose district is 100 miles east of Des Moines, is a member of the Iowa Farm Bureau, according to his state legislature biography. The Farm Bureau has opposed the Des Moines utility’s lawsuit and donated nearly $10,000 to Klein’s 2010 campaign. Klein also belongs to groups representing pork producers and corn growers, which have opposed the utility’s litigation.

Klein denies his legislation has anything to do with the Des Moines utility’s lawsuit, according to local media, and did not respond to an interview request. The Farm Bureau says it’s not involved, noting that it did not author the bill and has not registered in support of it.

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