Two social justice organizations, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) and Food and Water Watch (FWW) have tried to force the state of Iowa to pass laws that would require farmers to take action that would reduce nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the raccoon river. ICCI and FWW claim that farmers contribute to the toxins in the Raccoon River when they use fertilizers and fertilizers on crops that contain nitrogen and phosphorus that enter the water supply; especially the Raccoon River.

The organizations recently sought judicial relief based on a legal theory to expand the scope of the public trust doctrine. The public trust doctrine is historically narrow and reserved for ensuring access to or access to public waters without interference from private individuals who claim these waters as their own. ICCI and FWW advocated a more extensive interpretation of the public trust doctrine that goes beyond the interference of inadmissible private party owners. The organizations claimed that the doctrine should apply in this case, as the runoff produced by farmers makes the Raccoon River less aesthetic, unsuitable for kayaking and swimming, and unclean for drinking water. Although the court was reluctant to expand the scope of the doctrine, it did not rule on the merits of this claim. Instead, the court focused on procedural issues, whether the organizations were befitting and whether this was an unjustifiable political issue.

The court concluded that the ICCI and FWW were not decent because they could not prove a specific violation that could likely be redressed by a positive decision. She claimed that the link between the organizations’ alleged injuries from the rising toxicity levels of the Raccoon River and local farmers using fertilizers and manures for their crops is too weakened. In addition, the organizations did not provide enough support to convince the court that if farmers were forced to reduce their toxic runoff, the Raccoon River’s water quality would likely be improved.

The court found that it was an unjustifiable political question that could not be answered by the accepted methods of judicial proceedings. First, the court found that the organizations’ claim – that the Public Trust doctrine largely protects the use of navigable waters by the public – did not provide legal standards for solving the problem. The court failed to weigh farmers’ economic interests in their crops against the public’s interest in the Raccoon River and safe drinking water. Second, a decision in favor of the organizations meant that the court would force the legislature to pass laws to remedy the alleged violations. Such a scenario raises concerns about the separation of powers as the court would become too influential in the legislative process.

In short, the court did not consider whether to broaden the public trust doctrine and instead dismissed the case on procedural grounds and an unjustifiable political issue.