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Private donors give $900,000 to aid Iowa counties in water lawsuit

Private donors give $900,000 to aid Iowa counties in water lawsuit

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DES MOINES (AP) — The three northwest Iowa counties being sued by a Des Moines water utility have received $900,000 in donations to cover most of their legal bills, but officials won’t identify the donors.

The Des Moines Register reports that Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun Counties recently released about 260 pages of legal records to several newspapers and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

The counties have racked up nearly $1.1 million in legal bills so far.

Officials don’t believe they are required to identify the donors because state law exempts donations from foundations that support government.

Still, one of Calhoun County’s attorneys, David Wollenzien, said the counties are trying to get permission from donors to share more.

The lawsuit filed last year by Des Moines Water Works alleges that the three counties that oversee 10 agricultural drainage districts should be required to obtain federal water pollution discharge permits because they release pollutants into rivers.

The lawsuit could affect the way farm drainage tiles are treated by environmental regulators who monitor levels of nitrogen and phosphorus.

Randy Evans, the Iowa Freedom of Information Council’s executive director, said identifying the donors is important because their interests may differ from taxpayers’ interests. For example, farming groups or large agriculture corporations may be donating to the defense.

“Those who are paying the bills to fight the lawsuit may have a deep financial interest ... in not losing the lawsuit,” Evans said. But “if the counties lose and there are damages to pay, it’s the taxpayers who are on the hook.”

Four Iowa agriculture groups have acknowledged making contributions to the counties’ defense fund, but they have primarily done so through the Agricultural Legal Defense Fund. That makes it difficult to learn details of their contributions.

The groups are the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

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