In late summer, I would swim and stream-walk a small section of the Raccoon River. While sedimented for decades now, the water was clear in the shallows. For a few years now, the water is pea-green from edge-to-edge. For decades and worse now, this water has strongly contributed to a vast hypoxia zone in the Gulf.

In the 1980s, I wrote about the wisdom of the river, focusing on the Des Moines River as a living, very open metaphor for the essential streaming dynamic of the universe that is within us as well in the streaming of our body metabolism and thought.

Monday, September 26, 2016

More Than $$$ Needs To be Thrown At Iowa Water Pollution

If it were possible to channel even endless piles of money toward water quality improvement, the real question arises as to what will be done to actually improve water quality.  Many of the suggested strategies are gentle mitigation techniques that do not correct a inherently dysfunctional agricultural design.  Drainage still runs under field and stream edges and rapidly transports materials such as nitrates.  Fields are industrialized tile layouts more than stewarded natural soil, and that won’t change.  Additionally, none of these mitigation techniques really gives back significant land for wetlands that would process nutrients and reduce soil loss, and that won’t change due to the loss of tillable acreage.    And so, if we are really trying to clean water, one might expect that piles of money would not really meet the challenge to really modernize agricultural land in a way that builds rich soil and deeply mitigates water pollution.

And so, taxpayer money and/or ag producer money would likely be ineffective. 

Excerpts from Your 2 Cents Worth + plus Letters To Editor, Part Three [selected readers’ submissions to Des Moines Register]:

In Iowa, “collaboration,” when it comes to water quality now means “tossing large amounts of public money at farmers without any standard, deadlines, requirements, or any other accountability whatsoever. [bold, Kinseth]

To have clean water in Iowa require every farmer who wants subsidized crop insurance to have an approved clean-water plan for every insured field, and make sure those plans are enforced. Still voluntary, but state-wide conservation would actually happen.


Farmers in Iowa don't put food on your table.  They do pollute your streams, lakes and rivers.  they also want you to pay them to help clean up their mess.  I guess their farm subsidies aren't enough.


Des Moines Register, Letters To Editor, 9/24/16:
Kirk Tofte, “Why should average Iowans pay for cleanup?,” excerpt:

As the Register pointed out in its Sept. 18 editorial [Joining the struggle for clean water],  Republicans have been slow to lead on the issue of water quality in Iowa.  But it looks as though it will take no time at all for the GOP to come up with a solution for funding water quality projects--make the little guy pay for them through sales tax increases.

The vast majority of Iowans have had nothing to do with creating water quality problems in our state.  Why should the average Iowan pay for all the cleanup?  The Iowa Farm Bureau has fought water quality initiatives for decades.  Might this be because farmers and farm chemical companies have been those most responsible for creating water quality problems in Iowa?....


Des Moines Register, Letter To Editor, 9/25/16:
Richard Seibert, “Taxpayers shouldn’t foot water cleanup alone,” excerpt:

Finally, “Big Agriculture” and its supporters (Farm Bureau, Soybean Association, Corn Growers, etc.) seem to be acknowledging that there is growing concern and a realization that the people of Iowa are going to demand that something be done to improve the water quality of Iowa’s lakes and streams. ...  Now they are looking for a funding source.  Of course, their solution is to add the cost for this cleanup to the Iowa taxpayers.

Here’s a novel idea: Let’s have the producers who are fouling our waters with the chemical help pay for the clean up.  The Register recently reported sources estimating that Iowa’s corn and soybean harvest is projected to exceed 3.2 billion bushels this year.  If producers would pay 1 cent per bushel of grain harvested (with the help of all those chemicals), the much discussed Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund would collect $32 million toward funding the cleanup efforts (insert 2 cents or 3 cents if more money is needed).

I would then gladly support my legislative representatives voting to add 3/8 of one cent to the regressive sales tax to assist with water quality improvement, recreation, etc.  It feels better when both producers and taxpayers are contributing to the solution.


Des Moines Register, Letter To Editor:
Erich Riesenberg, "How exactly will sales tax improve water quality," excerpt:

...everyone seems to be lobbying for the new sales tax, but no one is willing to estimate what it will accomplish....A 15 percent reduction in nutrient runoff? Or 25 percent?

What is the next step, a decade and a couple of more billion dollars later, when Iowa's water remains polluted?

If Iowa's secretary of agriculture wants a revenue-neutral solution, require Iowa's rich farmland owners to implement Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy to receive existing state and federal subsidies.  Per the strategy, this would reduce runoff by around two-thirds, at no additional cost to the taxpayers.

[Kinseth: Two-thirds reduction is a fantasy.  The existing industrial tiled fields are not going to reduce nutrient flow, and farmland owners are not going to permanently take land now in production out of production for mitigating strips and wetlands on a permanent basis.  Nor are they going to rotate crops differently, and to an unknown extent even cooperate with changes that are either irrelevant to them or cutting into profits in an ongoing variable $$ per bushel market.

While it likely is essential to have crop insurance in an industry where weather is unpredictable (to assure simple getting upfront loan $$$ to plant and produce a crop, crop insurance in Iowa can be a 3.4 billion $$$$ subsidy in Iowa (Cedar Rapids Gazette figure--1995-2011).  While crop insurance can be a necessary subsidy, it does encourage more crop production with few demands such as a certain sustainable quality to land, without nutrient reduction, and without conservation strategies such as cover crops to protect soil. Thoughts here after Letter To Editor, Des Moines Register: John Norwood, "Crop insurance is a powerful economic tool."]


Des Moines Register, Letter To Editor:
Kurt Johnson, "Don't give farmers more credit than other producers," 10/13/16:

In a recent editorial, you warn against the unintended consequences of expecting Iowa's farmers to "feed the world" [Oct.10].  As you wrote, "...the most effective way to reduce world hunger is to help small farmers in Africa, Asia and elsewhere increase their productivity and income."

Some farmers and their supporters have a vested interest in making sure fellow citizens hold them in a special position because they produce the food we eat.  They perpetuate that meme in order to get special treatment by our government, for example, by not having to either stop or pay for polluting our waters, and by receiving a 60 percent subsidy on their crop/revenue insurance premiums.

Every week, most of us buy food from all over the world at our local grocery stores.  It may be wonderful to be able to buy local fresh food, but it is not a necessity.  International voluntary free trade is what has allowed us, and much of the rest of the world, toad starvation when local producers fail for any reason.

Farmers should be given no more credit than other producers of all kinds of products.  As Adam Smith wrote in 1776 in "The Wealth of Nations," "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker than we expect our dinner but form their regard to their own interest."


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