water works

Bill Stowe, the CEO of Des Moines Water Works, discusses water conservation practices by large meat producers during a news conference at Des Moines Water Works Park on Thursday in Des Moines.

Erin Murphy/Times Bureau

DES MOINES — Water quality advocates on Thursday called on Tyson Foods to enact more conservation practices to help make Iowa’s impaired waterways cleaner.

During a news conference held in Des Moines Water Works Park on the Raccoon River, the advocates expressed hope the meat producer’s shareholders would approve a resolution urging the same at its shareholders meeting on Thursday in Arkansas.

“Tyson has a chance to make the meat industry less polluting and better for the communities in and downstream from where they operate,” said Jessye Waxman, the lead organizer for the Clean it Up Tyson advocacy campaign.

The shareholders resolution was rejected at Thursday’s shareholders meeting, according to a company spokeswoman who also defended Tyson Foods’ record on water conservation practices.

“We’ve talked to this group and are aware of their concerns,” Tyson spokeswoman Caroline Ahn said in an emailed statement. “We’re committed to doing our part to address potential issues about pollution from crops, but believe any real changes must involve a broad coalition of leaders from across the supply chain working together, not just a single company.”

Waxman said as one of the nation’s largest meat producers Tyson has an opportunity to lead on water conservation rather than wait for the coalition that Ahn described.

At the news conference Thursday in Des Moines, Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe, Iowa Environmental Council water program director Susan Heathcote, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement state policy director Adam Mason spoke about what they said is a need for large companies to be better environmental stewards.

Iowa is one of 10 states contributing harmful pollutants into waterways that are feeding into the Mississippi River, leading to the Gulf of Mexico and killing marine life there. The so-called dead zone in 2017 was the size of New Jersey, scientists said.

Iowa State University developed a nutrient reduction strategy for improving the state’s water quality. But the program requires $4 billion in investment, and state funding for water quality programs thus far has been a small percentage of that.

Some water quality advocates also think farmers should be required by law to engage in water conservation practices.

“We believe that supply chain management and producer accountability is an important step forward in moving toward improving surface water quality here in Iowa and the Mississippi Valley,” Stowe said. “Clearly getting our hands around agri-pollutants and what comes into our drinking water is going to be critical from a public health standpoint, from an economic standpoint and from a social standpoint.”