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, October 31, 2016

Special Interests, Not Public Interests, Control the Laws Affecting The Environment

WE ALL WANT clean water--urban dwellers, farmers, small towns and general landowners.

Why don’t we have clean water?

Clean water requires laws.  With regard to environmental issues, laws are regulations or controls on activity.  The game is to stymie regulations because regulations cost $$$.  Regulations tend to be politically linked with loss of freedom to do what special interests want, and they are enacted in the public interest.  When there is a regulation, the public might feel that they won, but it is typically a loss that is touted as a win for the public.  Special interests PR their “gift” to the public interest by supporting some regulations, but backroom deal well ahead of actual laws to avoid regulations.  It is never a priority such as “clean water first” or “landscape improvement first” that wins out.

Almost all laws today favor special interests rather than public interests.  And when it comes to environmental regulations, special interests generally aspire to oppose and defeat environmental regulations.  While public comments on proposed changes can be 90% clear that environmental concerns demand strengthening regulations, special interest groups essentially determine approved changes on a local, state and federal level. 

Legislation that suggests direction encourages non-compliance.  For example, EPA required all states bordering the Mississippi River to submit a Nutrient Reduction Strategy.  Iowa submitted an NRS  involving the development of 7,000 wetlands (now have 70?), 120,000 saturated buffers and bio-reactors (now have 60?),  and 12 to 17 million acres of cover crops (now have 500,000 acres?) with almost no focus on livestock pollution that has grown rapidly to perhaps 8,000 factory farms.  And the Iowa NRS, if completely actualized is speculated to attempt to meet a 45% reduction in pollution, not clean water.  If everyone complied and even if they were freely funded, it will take decades to meet these goals.  And there would be resistance to permanently taking land out of production.  Putting every square foot in to production is how we got into this problem.  As an aspect of much of mid-to northern Iowa being a prairie pothole ecosystem, Iowa once had myriad wetlands on farmland for free that tiling fields eliminated astonishingly within just a few years to put more land into crop production.

Federal and state laws that affect water quality in Iowa clearly favor special interests.  Federal EPA requirements are restricted by special interests.  The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is more regulated (by limitations on the restrictions that it can impose) than landowners and factory farms.  Opposition to actions by landowners and factory farms have little effect, and can even be subject to fines for whistle-blowing. 

Local governments are both regulated by state and federal laws as well as regulate on their own how far they can go restricting development that negatively affect water quality.  And they have real issue with old infrastructure that requires extensive repair and modern re-design to reduce, not prevent, water pollution.

Environment is secondary to nearly all projects’ economic costs.  The environmental outcome of human activity is clearly a loss of existing environmental quality at every turn.  And when there are environmental goals, there are more in the form of partial repair  and never really an effort that begins with the priority of improving existing quality first, with all other priorities secondary to that.

The simplest regulations do have a financial cost, or even a fine for violations.  WE do have regulations impose financial liabilities.  But such liabilities are often supplemented with much more significant tax money to repair the damage [e.g., animal confinement problems and manure spills] so that the violator gets a land improvement reward for damaging the land.

To get “clean water,” [clean water is not going to happen in your lifetime] federal, state and local legal decisions would need to require improvement of the landscape’s quality as their first priority.  And that is not really going to occur because of the power of special interests in these governmental bodies.

Well-meaning landowners face shifting tides of weather and price fluctuation and essentially, overproduce crops to try and break even, with very good years and lean years.  This is what guides water becoming potentially  clean or not.  And laws that are consistent year in and year out don’t fit this model.  And so they cannot steward the land in terms of even maintaining current quality, let alone improve the land quality.  And so there is next to no authentic land stewardship.  More chemicals are poured in to supplement both soil fertility loss and the increased density of planting and minimal crop rotation.

How laws really work: For example, the Bakkan pipeline approval illustrates the absence of improving the landscape as the first priority.  While damage to the landscape was considered, it would never be enough to preempt project approval.  If improving the quality of the landscape might have been the first priority that needed to be met, approval would be unlikely.  Why?  This would be viewed as stopping progress, both by lessening industrial infrastructure and employment opportunity.  These are the first priorities, and they seem obvious to most.  It is difficult to imagine how the pipeline could have been constructed in a way that would improve the landscape.  And show us attempts to offset the damage caused by the pipeline by improving some other landscape.  Nothing like that was required or even imagined.

Another example of the battle put forth by special interests against public interests (source, Des Moines Register, but I don’t have specific citation and date):
One textbook example:  In December 2000, the Clinton 
administration enacted a rule cutting the arsenic levels allowed in
water supplies by one-fifth.  President George W. Bush tried to 
reverse that regulation, but Clinton had already redefined the status
quo.  Bush was perceived as trying to increase the level of arsenic 
by five times.
After an outcry, the Bush administration relented to the Clinton 

Standards of “clean water” and activities that ‘improve the quality of the the landscape” are not really tree-hugger agendas.  They are neutral economic objectives for Iowa where we are rapidly decreasing water and soil fertility that cost us all--farmers and urban dwellers.  To mitigate the conflict stirred up primarily by the DMWW lawsuit, there is an agricultural industry response to, of course, tax all Iowans, and to suggest that business and farmers cooperate with no regulation on landowners and businesses cooperating out the the goodness of their heart because they, too, love the environment.  Proposals begin as weak responses that will not be fully implemented and clearly not consistently for the decades of intervention required.  Meanwhile, the quality of water an land fertility is dramatically degraded, and the intensity of chemical usage, dense planting, and factory farming anticipated to increase.   The only reason, damagers get away with land degradation is the blessed, rare quality of Iowa land in the world that has made it less obvious.  The land quality that forgives damage took ten thousand years to bank it in such volume, and we are rapidly depleting it.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Flowing Wisdom--More Than Water

ALL IS A RIVER--time, self, place--flowing moment by moment, day 
after liquid day.  I am inside the pesent, a wavecrest in river eternal, 
rising from the past and cascading into the future.  There is still a 
magnitude of wilderness, a great diversity of endurance threatened, 
a multiplicity of utterance,and an opportunity for responsive action.  
I hear my mother tongue in the purl of the river, in my respiration, 
in the wind, and in the patient silence.  It is far more than 
I ever expected to discover.  It is a view that can live forever.

Lance Kinseth, River Eternal

When “Cooperation” As A Water Quality Strategy Masks A “Reality Of Doing Nothing”

Commentary on Ron Corbett, Iowa View: "The ‘Iowa Way’: A clean water solution for all," Des Moines Register: 

COOPERATION THROUGH partnerships involving landowners, business and taxpayers to produce clean water sound good, but can be as meaningless as saying, like the college logo in the movie Animal House, “Knowledge is good.”

Of, course, cooperation is good and knowledge is good.  But what real cooperation will require water quality as THE priority, and the knowledge needed for water quality recommends actions that are either being ignored or ignorantly unseen.  As it stands, the cooperation described in the commentary protects economic interests rather than water and is hyperbole that leads us away from a real solution.

Three components are described By Corbett as the “Iowa Way” for a clean water solution:
Farmer/landowner be held accountable.  This is interpreted as the current voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy vs. excessive regulations.  How to get compliance, give farmers $$$ help vs. carry 100% of burden.
Funding by taxpayer with dedicated, protected and consistent 3/8 penny sales tax to fill the Natural Resources and Recreational Trust Fund to protect water resources.
Corporate and company and “conservation entities” funding, with a corporate match to the 3/8 penny sales tax.

In this case “cooperation” translates as “taxpayer being duped,” and landowners and businesses if they believe this.

No requirements except for the Iowa sales tax payer.  

No specific $$ percentage for installing mitigation for farmer landowners; no specific regulation of compliance with chemical release and no regulation of soil depletion, no regulation of chemical application, just build mitigation without specific cost share by farmer/landowner.  Mitigation will require land, and land removed from production across time will not happen consistently across farmland.  Myriad absorbance strips next to streams and fields and myriad wetlands needed would permanently take land out of production. Promising strategies such as 3- and 4-year crop rotation that might assist in improved water quality will not be applied with any uniformity due again to profit loss.   

What is needed will not be a one-and-done deal.  This is an enduring need for decades to even approach (with total landowner compliance, which is impossible) an EPA goal of a 45% pollution reduction to reduce Gulf hypoxia.  Cost is tremendous to only partially improve water quality as is the very general goal of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Corbett suggests that “Companies will want to be associated with efforts to protect Iowa’s water quality.”  Who doesn’t?  Consistently, year after year, “matching 3/8 penny sales tax”? Not going to happen.

Bottom line: No one makes water quality the first priority, so the capability of not only coming up with the $$$ but also really changing the eco-infrastructure of Iowa agriculture so that it doesn’t keep costing us will simply never happen.  That fact is crystal clear.  Currently, farmers feel as if they must mega-produce to get by to be able to continue to farm.  Economically sustaining the farm will practically outweigh sustaining water quality and even the long-term declining soil quality that makes Iowa unique and that is rare in the world.

There once was an Iowa agriculture without tiling, less chemical, less production and wetlands all over the terrain that did less damage to both soil and water.  There were abuses back then as well but on a lesser scale.  There will be no return to this early agriculture as it has become impractical and completely estranged from the running industrialized models that are only increasing.  Now there are more than 8,000 factory farms with politically protected state and federal soft regulations.  

Without a primary prioritization of real water quality, the three “solutions” suggested above will be impractical.  In heaven, maybe all components would give over the money and reduce the pollution, but this is Iowa, not heaven.

It is really dangerous to suggest that we have a good strategy in what is described above, or that landowners are truly stewards or that Iowa feeds the world.  We do have answers and good ideas but we are unwilling to use them primarily because they will cost us a lot if we really do it.  And so without regulation that entities such as water treatment face, we will get far below even a hoped for 45% reduction in water pollution.

Where is 
comprehensive funding for water treatment for the decades ahead that we will not have even partially clean water at best (i.e., 65% polluted still?; or
water as priority that economic factors will not override?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Gulf Hypoxia & Iowa

Hypoxia, or low oxygen, is an environmental phenomenon where the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water column decreases to a level that can no longer support living aquatic organisms. Hypoxic areas, or "Dead Zones," have increased in duration and frequency across our planet's oceans since first being noted in the 1970s.
The largest hypoxic zone currently affecting the United States, and the second largest hypoxic zone worldwide, is the northern Gulf of Mexico adjacent to the Mississippi River.

Hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico is defined as a concentration of dissolved oxygen less than 2 mg/L (2 ppm). This figure is based on observational data that fish and shrimp species normally present on the sea floor are not captured in bottom-dragging trawls at oxygen levels < 2mg/L. In other oceans of the world, the upper limit for hypoxia may be as high as 3-5 mg/L.

The average size of the hypoxic zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico over the past 30 years (1985-2014) is about 13,650 square kilometers (or 5,300 square miles., Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium


In Iowa, nitrates in water has increased through the years with, for example, measures of nitrates annual median milligrams per liter across time being: 1905: 1-2; 1940: 4; today: 9   Corn and soybeans involves perhaps 23 million acres in Iowa and, of course, across these years, the addition of artificial fertilizers to cropland was initiated and has increased.

The Iowa Environmental Council suggests that “Concentrations of nitrate in Iowa’s streams and groundwater have been found to rank among the highest in the U.S., even higher than elsewhere in the Corn Belt and Northern Great Plains.” [from Donnelle Eller, “Concerns voiced about nitrate levels,” Des Moines Register, 9/30/16, (bold, Kinseth)]

While the drainage basin of the Mississippi River includes a vast landmass, the concentration or “density” of intensive agricultural production that requires chemical applications to produce the volume of grain that is taken annually in Iowa makes Iowa agriculture a big polluter.

30% of U.S seafood comes from the Gulf.

While hypoxia occurs on the seafloor.  It is the consequence of nutrients in the upper water strata, so that water is highly modified vs. natural.  In addition, there are myriad chemicals that are toxic and flowing into the Gulf Of Mexico.


Coastal hypoxia zones are not limited to the Gulf.

The occurrence of hypoxia in shallow coastal and estuarine areas is human-caused vs. hypoxia in deep oceans, and it appears to be increasing.  

Monday, October 24, 2016

Iowa: Not The Breadbasket Of The World, Part Two

See earlier post: Iowa: Not The Breadbasket Of The World, Part One, 10/10/16

IN A VERY REAL WAY, Iowa may be one of the richest and rarest  breadbaskets in the world, but it is not the breadbasket FOR the world.  ‘For the world’ and “Feeding The World’: BOGUS, Bogus, bogus...

Why Part Two?

Craig Lang, “Iowa View: Agriculture Is A Global Market, Des Moines Register, 10.20/16, responds to a DSM Register editorial “Don’t expect Iowa farmers to ‘feed the world,’ 10/10/1, that suggested that Iowa does not feed the world.  He suggests that this might leave farmers with a sense that that they are not doing things “for the greater good.”  

This is confusing hyperbole: Accurately, Iowa does not feed the world but that does not imply that Iowa agriculture is not for the greater good.  Iowa agriculture is not out to destroy the world or keep the ag products from the world.  Agricultural interests come from around the world to explore the technological advances that are operant in Iowa and ag products go out across the world but primary to markets that can afford them.

The bias is not with the Register but with the this Iowa Ag view.

This blog, Iowa Water, focuses primarily on the water quality issues rather than on the global reach of Iowa agriculture.  However, the nobility of feeding the world can contribute to an idea that, morally, Iowa should do all it can to mass produce agricultural products in order to feed the world.  Accordingly, agriculture should be even more industrialized to serve a moral obligation to the world.  Related to water quality, this makes water quality a very secondary priority to feeding the world, and this misses the moral responsibility to enhance rather than deplete the water and soil quality to the point of degrading the ten thousand year old soil fertility and public health.   If Iowa agriculture truly did feed the world, then this might be more of a moral imperative that would outweigh degrading the landscape and public health.  But Iowa feeding the world is a myth vs. a reality, and more chemicals and soil loss and rapid crop recycling and seed design to increase plant density and seed production cannot keep increasing without damaging even the quality of the “breadbasket” that allows for intense exploitation.


Agreed, farming is modern and not an age-old system, and that fact makes it both positive and negative.  It is new tech with an old myth.  The idea of Iowa feeding the world is a myth and that myth is dangerous.  It keeps us from doing exactly what we say we are doing which is “feeding the world.”  What we are doing is outsourcing all we can to a global market, but it is really not feeding the human world.  It goes to ethanol and to animal feed and base products such as fructose.
The argument is offered that Iowa feeds the world in two ways: (1) In underdeveloped nations, the production of more generic products and lower prices in good seasons allow the local populations to focus their farming on local nutritional needs; and (2) in developed countries, generic products, such as soy meal for pigs in China basically upgraded food options.  This latter Chinese example might insult and mask the impact of a much vaster and very rapid improvement of the Chinese economy.  Guess what.  The Chinese would have been enjoying pork with no big problem due to these vster changes.  

Correctly, Iowa agriculture does affect/impact the global ag price market.  And when we produce more, we (to our economic disadvantage lower prices) increase access to these commodities.

Applying high technology to poor fertility landscapes around Earth may damage rather than improve sustainability.  

The ag research that is oriented best toward various global landscapes/bioregions tends to be university- and governmental-based.  This type of research often challenges ag industry research as well as farming practices even in Iowa.  For example, three- or four-year seasonal crop rotation does not fit well with corn-soy-corn-soy in Iowa, but it has much to do with sustainability of soil fertility and water quality in Iowa.  This type of research is not for profit, and it can focus on authentic world hunger in places like Somalia that are not a market for mass purchasing of Iowa commodities.  And this type of research that is modern might come best from nations such as Israel  that have related soil fertility issues.

Overall, Iowa is a global market.  But Iowa is not feeding the globe.  And the type of agriculture practiced in Iowa is not in a unique position to feed the world or even design for various technologies to feed the various, often poorer soil fertility conditions that are present throughout most of the world.  

To great credit, Iowa agriculture has appropriately moved from age-old local systems of farming that were the only options to improved agricultural methods that can deal much more effectively with farming risks such as weather and pests to assure for more stability year in and year out.  And this has influenced more ag research and allowed for more stability in carrying forward agriculture in all of its forms.

To its discredit, Iowa agriculture clings to myths that can allow it to become exploitive.  It has taken an industrialized turn so that the idea of an “Iowa farmer” is no longer one of a steward of the land as the first priority.  It is high-volume competition as the priority if the farmer is to sustain, but it is a blow to the sustainability of the landscape.  Modern Iowa farming would not be possible without the ten-thousand year soil bank and water conditions.  Modern Iowa farming is shooting itself in the foot and it is affecting public health.

It is interesting that to fix water quality issues, the hot new focus is on taxation to fix the farm (with very low targets of change that will not fix the water, even if all the farmers were committed) and no mention of funding for water treatment that users of those services will have to also fund, and increasingly fund things like mitigating the nitrates and phosphates that are removed.  The treatment plants are REQUIRED to meet specific standards, but the farmers have no requirements, either in release of chemicals and soil or in initial amount of chemical input into fields.   And there are water treatment services in Iowa that simply cannot afford to meet standards now. 

The myth of Iowa ‘feeding the world’ “mitigates” the almost total absence of the other myth of ‘stewardship‘ that is largely impossible and meaningless in the face of the farmer’s dilemma of making enough profit to “sustain” farming another season.  It becomes much more ‘take‘ than ‘put back.‘   Modern Iowa agriculture is exploitation of the landscape vs. stewardship of the landscape.  If you use the term “sustainability,” which implies stability across the long run, exploitation is clear and indisputable. 

"Required" Works; "Voluntary" Is Laughable

Your 2 Cents’ Worth excerpts, Part 4 [various readers submissions/ Des Moines Register]: 

To the commenter who said, “Our Iowa farmers put food on your table”: 
Much of Iowa agriculture puts ethanol on cars, cheap pork on foreign tables 
and massive pollution in Iowa lakes and rivers.  And taxpayers subsidize the 
crop insurance.


To “Sick of anti-ag activist groups”: So far, Iowa row crop agriculture
remains unregulated, and for every farmer who is doing good conservation, 
there are forty farmers who aren’t.  I wish those so-called “anti-ag activists groups” 
were more successful.


You don’t have to fertilize your lawn in Des Moines, just water it with city water.
We have plenty of fertilizers thanks to the runoff in the rivers.


The Detroit River is amazingly cleaner than when I was a child there 50 years ago, and the main reason is because manufacturers were required to reduce pollution.  “Required” works.  “Voluntary” is laughable.

The fairest method for measuring Iowa water progress is to compare the amounts and kinds of farm conservation called for in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy with the amounts and kinds of conservation actually being used by farmers.  Guess why farm groups hate that method.
--They prefer to measure “farmer interest” in conservation


We could have done a lot of water-protecting, soil-saving, pollinator-helping farm conservation with the hundreds of millions that Branstad handed that Egyptian fertilizer plant.  Instead, farmers got cheaper fertilizer that will end up in our lakes and rivers.


I know several farmers who deserve and get my thanks for their yummy grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, good conservation, etc.  But the idea that every farmer deserves thanks is ridiculous.  Why thank farmers who bulldoze woodlands, rowcrop steep hills, and plant corn right next to creeks?
---Rural Iowa Senior

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Indigenous Grass As Urban Class


a short grass “rainscape” that develops deep roots and retains water.  Doesn’t need mowing as it stays low.  Does not easily let other flora in.  Likely appears “tacky” to most, but not to a very few.   Not a good playground, but largely self-caring.  Note: This grass can be mowed at a slightly higher setting for a very  plush, "even" effect if desired. Perhaps if people became aware of rainscaping as  a design option, a new aesthetic might open for more than a few?  That which is appreciated changes across time and is subject to whims.  Now home interiors rip out carpet in favor of hardwood floors, and stainless steel and granite counters and, please, no colored bathroom toilets and tubs.


Indigenous grass and water:  

I grew up in Fort Dodge, Iowa.  I lived on the northeast edge of the city that opened to lorn pasture and woodland and cropland.  You could actually play hide-and-seek in cornfields but not without scratches from rough corn leaves (but dangerous in summer heat.  

In the pioneer era, there was a massive bog just to the West of Fort Dodge, Iowa.  It was referenced at the time as “Big Hell” because of its impassability.  Everything was to be used as a commodity.  Between 1866--84, an eighteen-year flash, 12 million buffalo were exterminated in the American heartlands.  And so. too, this bog and a vast prairie pothole bioregion. that was shaped by glaciation.  I only know about the bog as a historical footnote.   It was gone before I lived in Fort Dodge and there was not a clue as to its having been there.  Flat dry cropland and drainage ditches splayed out in all directions, and they sped water and soil and nutrients rapidly southbound, resulting in soil loss, contaminated water as well as contributing to downstream flooding. 

Nasty old “Big Hell” retained water, soil, and built soil fertility that now goes down the drain--used not nurtured and balanced.  Authentic stewardship would have altered the terrain but not raped it.  And so now, big costs to even partially mitigate loss and declining soil fertility and eco-diversity issues and public health issues in the local place and elsewhere.

Three Simple Things

JENNIFER TERRY, environmental advocacy leader of the Des Moines Water Works lists three things that will actually improve water quality:

Iowa must implement a targeted watershed approach that holistically treats all contaminants in our public waterways and is adequately funded for the long term. Begin by prioritizing the Raccoon River Watershed which supplies drinking water to 500,000 Iowans;

Stop pollution where it starts and hold responsible the most egregious water polluters by supporting basic standards of care and water quality monitoring;

Insist on timelines for meeting nutrient pollution reduction goals, set benchmarks to measure progress along the way and make water quality data easily accessible to the public.
Jennifer Terry, “Iowa View: Iowa’s progress on water 
quality fails to excite,” Des Moines Register


This is really quite a clean and clear plan, and it would go a long way in improving water quality.  However, efforts to improve water quality will almost assuredly be ineffective and not work.  This is not because it is an unclear directive or even biased directive.  This is what really everyone wants for Iowa water.  

These three simple things have to happen for improved water quality.  If anything is clear, this is crystal clear.

It will be ineffective until we revalue Iowa water as a priority.  Iowa water is a very secondary concern.  And this reality of Iowa water being a secondary concern is evident in actions to date and in proposals being suggested.  Biases in every plan that prioritize other interests assure for token efforts at best.  Accordingly, $$$ that have been spent and $$$ that will “target” the problem will protect other interests and be facile at best.

Talk about “achievements of clean water” in the “exciting, new public interest in doing something about water” will not result in high-quality water and will best result in Iowans being snookered by big talk and little action with $$$-spent going down the drain.  Three simple things that must be done are listed above, and they must be done comprehensively, if the goal is really about water quality.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sacred Water & Iowa, Part One


THE TERM “SACRED” tends to popularly reference something rare, special and exclusive, and often as something distant.  And so, sacred space, sacred landscapes, sacred things and sacred beings tend to be exclusive.  

In modern societies, we tend to feel less dependent on events arounds us.  Turn on the faucet or shower head or flush the toilet and water spews forth--common, everyday, ordinary, nothing special--and therefore not even close to being thought of as sacred.  And because water seems ordinary and common, the spigot is likely to run for longer than we need.  Even though it is right at hand, it is distanced.  Conveniently, we didn’t have to go somewhere to get it, carry it, clean it, store it.  And we know that we are wasteful.

In the flood of 1993, the DMWW was overrun and there was a taste of life without convenient water.  Increasingly, everywhere on Earth, degrading environmental feedback, especially in the form of public health problems and threats to material resources, is provoking a new look at the “ordinary” as perhaps special.  In a changing global environment, we are beginning to experience the ways in which, like indigenous societies, we depend on everything around us.  

Problematically, we look at what we need to do to assure for environmental quality as a serious economic cost to us.  Environment is still seen as a resource that is nature not culture and, therefore, outside out life.  But as we are forced to change, we stand to discover that optimizing the environment reduces economic cost by sustaining rather than repairing something that we absolutely require.

With just a little different experience, everything can be sensed to be sacred.  This is often grasped better in indigenous societies that depend on everything around them.  In this dependence, there is a sense of quality and appreciation in the ordinary.  This new attention to the landscape opens a sense of the landscape already doing things rather than needing our activism.  And not only gain economic value for next to nothing, but also open an inherent sacredness that arises out of experiencing our inseparability.  This sacredness is perhaps best captured in the term “spirituality.”  Spirituality involves an experience of inclusiveness and inseparability and a sense of wisdom, awe and wonder. 


We drink of cup of water--8.36 septillion molecules of water [8.36x10 24].  And unless, highly distilled, water contains a soup of everything.  “Clean water” is safe water, not pure water.  Each molecule of water has been imagined to travel around the world for a century, spending most of its life in oceans [98 years], 20 minutes as ice, 23 weeks as river/lake, and less than a week as atmosphere.  But as abundant as water seems (covering 70 percent of Earth surface), 97 percent of water is saltwater, with 3 percent being fresh water, and perhaps two-thirds of fresh water being ice, with a percent being underground water, leaving 0.036 percent as rivers and lakes.  WAter is “abundant, and yet less than one percent of all water on Earth is useable fresh water.  And since we use  
“useable fresh water,” that makes the water that we depend on rather rare.  And all of this water going ‘round & ‘round Earth has been doing so for billions of years with no real new water.  It is billion-years-old world-traveling stuff, and also electronic stuff, with hydrogen atoms being positive and big old oxygen atoms being negative.  this elctronic aspect holds water together [i.e., its everyday stickiness/wetness], allowing it to become a magical solution, but, negatively, when we don’t want it, holding in elements that make it work to get out. 

Water seems ordinary, and yet it is so special.  Biota--flora and fauna--collect around it and/or gather it, making water the primary event in their structure.  There is not biota without water.  It is THE life support system.  It is the primary mini-sea of a cell’s cytoplasm, and it’s polarity makes it dance with energy.  In human beings, a water deficit of 10 percent means that one can no longer walk.

And so it enters our sacred life--the Ganges River in the Far East, and in the West, for example, the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized and the Sea of Galilee and the Grotto at Lourdes.

In the Lakota nation, Mni Wakon, it is said--“water as sacred”--and more generally, water as “the blood running through the veins of Mother Earth.”

Blessing by water is universal.  Why? because sooner or later, and in modern life, usually later unfortunately, water is life, and not something above water.
Human rights are more than human, if we really get that which is going on, and that which optimizes a wise human life.

Therefore, the rights of water, that are not separate from human life, but central, are a quality that we immediately build into human decisions/planning.  The “rights of water” or legal standing for water are not just control of “water rights” that occurs throughout the world where accessible water has now grown extremely sparse. 

When we finally get it, and finally awaken, we are related by water.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So very useful, humble, precious and chaste.
Francis of Assisi, from The Canticle of Brother Sun

In an unsettled Earth, we used to be able to extract resources and then move on.  Now, in a peopled Earth, there are few such resources and no open frontier.  What we do feeds back on us either positively or negatively. And in this unsettled landscapea, there is care in the landscape that has been buoying us up, especially in Iowa in the stored riches of its soil.  And yet we act as if we come from the outside instead of seeing that we are inside the terrain.  We are corporate more than organic.  We take rather take care of.  

In such a context, a few begin to ask, what if streams, rivers and lakes were sacred?
The closer and the more open that one goes to small events and large weathers and landscapes, the more an opportunity for a sense of meaningfulness (without needing to have explicit meaning), awe and wonder.  And when this occurs, we might begin to act differently toward them, and give them more standing in our own actions.

Sacredness and wisdom are close allies.  In Iowa prairies, we find a wise sustainability strategy in the design of the grasses--putting its efforts into the roots and producing fewer seeds, unlike the weed ecosystem strategy of the hybridized grains--producing more seeds with shallow roots. 

In Iowa, water is a resource.  We lack the indigenous “feel” to water.  Perhaps this is the direction of human life, as an agitator and destroyer, like an asteroid destroying the diversity of the Cambrian explosion that included dinosaurs and big life forms. 

But there is another side, as expressed in the anthology of Robert Bly,News of the Universe,  that suggests an enduring drive toward eco-wittedness through the centuries.  In this vision, water is life and sacred when you look at the rarity of life and is complexity.  And there is a sense that our actions can become optimizing and illuminating as they emphasize integration.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Iowa: Not The Breadbasket Of The World, Part One

See also Iowa: Not The Breadbasket Of The World, Part Two, 10/24/16

THE IOWA LANDSCAPE is some of the richest land for agriculture on Earth.  However, it is a vulgar [i.e., facile/too easy/ popular] myth that Iowa is the breadbasket of the world.

Most U.S. agricultural exports go to countries whose citizens can 
afford to pay for them.
....86 percent of the value of U.S. agricultural exports in 2015 
went to Canada, China, Mexico, Europe, Japan and 15 other markets 
with low numbers of hungry people, according to the U.N. Development 
. ...Only half of one percent of U.s. agricultural exports went to 
a group of 19 under-nourished countries that includes Haiti, Yemen
and Ethiopia.
Des Moines Register Editorial, Don’t expect Iowa 
Farmers to ‘feed the world,’ 10/10/16
The agriculture that does occur in Iowa is modern and industrialized and as such it perpetrates high costs on all of the citizens of Iowa including farmers.  The demand to get the most ag production out of the land, depletes the soil quantity [i.e., soil loss that has been stored for millennia] and quality.  To get the most production, crops are densely planted, annually rotated, not covered with vegetation that returns quality to the soil, enduring continual soil loss, and treated with intense artificial chemicals.  

Now, while being a small part of the Iowa economy, industrial ag seeks statewide taxes to reduce water pollution that does major and continual damage to water quality to the point of being a public health concern as well as contribute strongly to a national ecological concern in the Gulf of Mexico as well as locally in streams, rivers, ponds and lakes.  The federal EPA only hopes for a 45 percent reduction decades from now at best, and the odds of getting that require an effort that many organization and source point polluters do not even consider a problem.   

If someone is to be aided, what about the costs of water treatment systems?  In the federal Clean Water Act, water treatment systems are mandated to reduce nitrates to safe levels in incoming water, as well as regulation in disposing of nitrates removed from the water.  Of course, political influence assured that farm runoff would not be subject to regulation in the Clean Water Act. 

Municipal water treatment systems and myriad private wells in Iowa can’t afford reduce nitrates from water and then need to begin to spend even more to clean the extracted nitrate waste to avoid returning it to the water.

Across Iowa last year, the water supplies serving about 260 cities 
and towns were considered highly susceptible to contamination by 
excessive nitrates and other pollutants.  That’s about 30 percent of 
the state’s 880 municipal water systems.  
Unlike Des Moines, many of those cities and towns have no 
facilities to remove nitrates.

....Over the next five years, [Des Moines] Water Works estimates 
it will have to spend almost $80 million more for additional nitrate 
removal measures--a cost that ultimately must be covered by taxpayers.
Lee Rood, Reader’s Watchdog, Utility shifting how it 
disposes of excess nitrates, Des Moines Sunday Register, 10/9/16

The Register reported last month that 15 percent of private wells voluntarily 
tested between 2006 and 2015 had nitrate levels that exceeded federal 
standards, according to Iowa Department of Public Health data.
Donnelle Eller, Concerns voiced about nitrate levels, Des Moines
Register, 9/30/16
All Iowa ag, be it the family farm or the corporate farm or feedlot,  is about squeezing a profit out of a very fragile situation that it dictated by weather and price shifts for commodities.  It is a tight situation.  And in such a situation, good intention to be a good steward and to assure for clean water are simply overtaken by economic demands over eco-demands.  But the intensity of intrusion into the landscape to turn a profit are also dressed up in distractions that say agriculture is a stewardship when it is not.  And it gets dressed up in ideas such as being the world’s breadbasket, feeding the world, and putting food on Iowa tables.  And these noble ideas do not represent an Iowa agriculture that in reality feeds the buyers not the world and little of the ag products reach Iowa’s tables.

Industrial ag gives a bad name and damaging economic cost to family farmer.  If it did not, there would be more family farmers.  Family farms ride, very dependently, on the tail of indust. ag, and indust. ag can settle in lower commodity prices because they produce more and can take a smaller margin of profit on a mass production.  And this industrial ag strategy will not get much better in the foreseeable future.  Industrial ag will do even more to chase ways to sell to any system that can pay--such as growing interest in meat in China--and further deplete Iowa’s natural rare in the world land.  

While rural populations are being depleted by a global process of urbanization, industrial ag has contributed to the population drain by making it nearly impossible to buy in and compete.  Accordingly, there is a societal cost to community as well as both an immediate public health cost to individuals subject to pollution and economic costs [i.e., taxation to clean water] and a vaster ecological impact that feeds back everywhere as public health issues, quality of life issues, and higher ag production costs due to strategies that continue to deplete soil fertility.

Iowa must balance the economic benefits of trade with the cost of 
feeding a few wealthy countries.  How much should Iowa bear the 
environmental consequences of satiating growing appetites for meat 
in China and other nations?
Des Moines Register Editorial, Don’t expect Iowa Farmers to ‘feed the world,’ 10/10/16


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."