WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2016 - The already complicated and politically charged legal case filed by the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) against a handful of northwest Iowa drainage districts is growing more complex.

At least that’s the opinion of Kristine Tidgren, staff attorney for Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation. On Jan. 11, U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett asked the Iowa Supreme Court to clarify Iowa law regarding four questions, Tidgren wrote in a blog post. The questions involve the interpretation of “implied immunity” and other legal issues.

“This means that the Iowa Supreme Court will have a large say in whether the tort claims brought by DMWW will be dismissed. This also means that the Iowa Supreme Court will have a large say in whether DMWW can continue its portion of the action seeking monetary tort damages against the districts,” Tidgren noted.

“The certification does not impact the merits of the Clean Water Act claims. However, it seems likely that the process of certification will delay the entire action, perhaps by as much as a year. It is unlikely that the scheduled August 2016 trial will occur, even if the court were to bifurcate the proceedings.”

On March 16, 2015, the DMWW sued drainage district trustees in Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties, alleging that they allow nitrates -- beyond the amount permissible by law -- to move from farm fields to the Des Moines watershed from which they must be removed by the DMWW to meet federal standards for drinking water. The districts claim that they are immune to the plaintiff’s claims and have also raised 15 other points of defense.


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