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.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

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?

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