Let’s set politics aside and work to protect Iowa’s water
by Graham Gillette
The Des Moines Register, 11/21/2016
On Election Day, President Barack Obama reminded Americans, “No matter what happens, the sun will rise in the morning and America will still be the greatest nation on Earth.” He was, of course, correct. The morning revealed a people united in the pursuit of a more perfect union. We may occasionally disagree on which path to take, but we are bound by a shared belief that a government by the people is a government for the people. In trying times, we must rededicate ourselves to finding common ground. The obstacles in our way will not be overcome if we are distracted by political power struggles. Such conflict does nothing to solve the problems our nation, state and communities face.
Few issues are more vital to the future of Iowa and its people than Iowa’s increasingly polluted water. As chairman of the board of Des Moines Water Works, I am acutely aware that the political forces in our state have yet to find common ground on how to stem agriculture pollution. The federal lawsuit DMWW filed 18 months ago continues to wind its way through the legal process, but most Iowans agree, regardless of the outcome of this case, the solution will not come entirely from the court. Iowa must adopt reasonable measures to keep pollution from reaching waterways in the first place, which is why the DMWW board and many leaders involved in government, academia, business and the agriculture industry continue to seek reasonable plans to protect water cooperatively. However, some who are more interested in political retribution than adopting policies and programs to protect Iowa’s water are attempting to derail such cooperation.
Shortly after DMWW filed a lawsuit arguing drainage districts in three northern Iowa counties should be responsible for the quality of water they release, an agriculture industry-funded group began paying for television ads attacking DMWW’s leaders. Politicians in the General Assembly filed bills to penalize Des Moines for what Gov. Terry Branstad said was DMWW’s "war on rural Iowa." These ads, statements, and political machinations were initiated to punish DMWW for raising the water pollution issue. No one can reasonably argue any of these actions forwarded constructive discussion.
The change in the balance of power at Iowa’s Statehouse has re-energized some who wish to protect narrow interests by thwarting DMWW’s lawsuit and its efforts to protect our most precious shared natural resource, water. One such punitive measure being revived by obstructionists is a bill aimed at effectively dismantling DMWW. This bill passed the Iowa House last year but died in the Senate. Those pushing a bill to rewrite Iowa Code Section 388.1 and other similar bills are doing so to halt the federal water pollution lawsuit, not to address any other matter.
DMWW is the regional supplier of safe, affordable drinking water for central Iowa. Established nearly 150 years ago, the people of Des Moines are both DMWW's primary customers and its owners. Today, water systems throughout the region are supplied by DMWW, meaning almost every person in the area’s suburban communities, cities and counties drink DMWW water. We are committed to continuing to seek ways to collaborate, manage more efficiently and equitably govern. But don’t be fooled. The bill mentioned above is not an effort to govern better, it is a questionable maneuver designed to strip an asset from the people of Des Moines. Should it pass, it too will land in court. This bill is vindictive politics at its worst.
The issue is Iowa’s water quality. A few supported by narrow interests are trying to use the politics of division to distract. I love Iowa, and I firmly believe it, and we are better than this. What we face is not a war between urban and rural interests. We are all on the same side as Iowans and as Americans. Let us agree to work together to protect water. We should argue about what path to take and then agree to use science and facts to help us decide together which route to take. Now is not the time for political retribution and obstruction. Now is the time to find common ground. Now is the time for progress.