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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pipeline Leak Example

Map Displays Five Years of Oil Pipeline Spills
by Amanda Starbuck, 6/22/2015

On June 14, a natural gas pipeline ruptured and burst into flames near Cuero, Texas, releasing an estimated 165,000 pounds of toxic volatile organic compounds into the air. Nearby residents evacuated their homes, but no one was injured. Still, the accident serves as another reminder of the dangers of transporting natural gas and other hazardous materials.
Industry insists that pipelines are safe, but ruptures and leaks are a daily occurrence. Eighty people have died and 389 have been injured in such incidents in the last five years.
Since 2010, over 3,300 incidents of crude oil and liquefied natural gas leaks or ruptures have occurred on U.S. pipelines. These incidents have killed 80 people, injured 389 more, and cost $2.8 billion in damages. They also released toxic, polluting chemicals in local soil, waterways, and air.

Over 1,000 of these incidents occurred on pipelines carrying crude oil. High Country News, a nonprofit news organization in Colorado, mapped these spills:
Crude Oil Pipeline Incidents, 2010 to Present

Source: High Country News

According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, these spills and ruptures released over 7 million gallons of crude. Individual leaks ranged from a few gallons to hundreds of thousands of gallons. One of the largest spills happened in North Dakota in 2013 when lightning struck a pipeline, which leaked over 840,000 gallons of crude onto a wheat field.

Much of this crude originates in the oil fields of Texas and North Dakota. But accidents frequently occur with pipelines that just transport crude through states to refineries. Thus, states not directly involved in the oil fracking boom still face substantial risks to public safety and the environment from crude transport.

Oil and Gas Pipelines
Aging pipelines and few inspections contribute to failure

Nearly half of America’s crude oil pipelines are  more than 50 years old, increasing the chance of corrosion and failure. Human error and failure of operators to act on potential vulnerabilities in their pipelines also contribute to accidents. So do natural phenomena like lightning and earthquakes.

Moreover, only 139 federal pipeline inspectors are responsible for examining over 2.6 million miles of pipelines. That’s nearly 18,000 miles of pipeline per inspector – clearly not enough to ensure the integrity of our nation’s aging pipeline infrastructure.

Additional funding for inspections is an important step. But to completely avoid these accidents, we need to shift to renewable energy sources.   

Are you living near a pipeline? Visit the interactive map from the National Pipeline Mapping System to see what pipelines cross your state.  

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Pending Trifecta of Disaster for Iowa Water Quality



November 2016:  New federal Renewable Fuel Standard mandate for 2017:  A 19.28 billion gallon mandate for U.S. for 2017, a 6.4% increase over 2016 and higher than EPA proposals suggested in Spring 2016

This will encourage increased production of corn as the 2017 mandate allows production of 15 billion gallons of “conventional biofuel," which is basically corn-based ethanol.  This means more fertilizer that will result in more nitrogen being released into the water.  The United States became the largest ethanol producer in 2005, driven by federal legislation.


Agricultural field tiles:  This is not new but installation is continuing to increase.  

Agricultural tiling which is the primary delivery mechanism for nitrate into streams. In mitigation of water pollution, there is no mention of reducing tiling and, in fact, it continues to increase.  Tiling has virtually eradicated a natural mitigation system of wetlands that occurred naturally as an aspect of the vast northern midwestern prairie pothole bioregion.  Mitigation to reestablish wetlands or much smaller bio-reactors into which tiles might drain will have a very limited impact on both current and anticipated increases in nitrate release into streams.  Wetlands would have to be many and vast which would be costly and take decades if we were so motivated, and would also have to take land out of production since land is farmed to the property edges.

3/8th PENNY 

3/8 penny sales tax directed toward mitigation techniques to improve Iowa water quality

There is a strong drive by farm advocacy groups and even supported by conservation groups to legislate funds to be used for construction of mitigation strategies to improve water quality.   Funds would go to agricultural efforts, with farm advocacy groups favoring counting the number of conservation practices that are implemented rather than measuring the actual water quality to see if it is improved.  The farm advocacy argument for not measuring actual water quality is that it will take time, even decades, to see quality improvement.  But without measures, there is no assurance that any mitigation efforts really have a positive effect.  Approximately 4.4 billion dollars have been spent in Iowa in the pst 20 years, and yet, water quality has deteriorated further to the point of being a public health problem. 

There is not only an absence of measures required, but also a harsh resistance to any regulation, such as regulation of the quantity of fertilizer used. Further, there is likely to be no taxation on fertilizer or anything that requires a financial cost from the producers of water pollution.  There is also no cost assistance for water treatment  to remove nitrates and phosphates which are required to address risks to public health.

Under pressure to not pollute, agricultural advocacy groups favor legislation without “teeth,” and a public cost rather than a personal cost, to measure and regulate anything will create a sense of addressing the problem.


Increased corn production, no standard control on tiling or massive counter-measure, and toothless legislation will result in talk and not action.  This will occur at a time when the problem is not lessening or even stabilizing, but rather, is increasing. 

The pending disaster for Iowa water quality is really not even limited to the above trifecta of factors.  

Increased animal factory farms, an anticipated increasingly wetter Iowa climate that may have more extreme precipitation patterns, addition of other chemicals such as fungicides to current fertilizers and herbicides/pesticides, processes such as the Bakkan pipeline, and consistent, dependable resistance to change as demonstrated over decades are other immediate factors that will contribute to an even more multi-faceted disaster than a good-sized trifecta.

Forget measures for a moment, what about basic goals.  The EPA goal to improve the Mississippi drainage basin water quality asks Iowa for a 45% improvement, not clean water.  And EPA recognizes that even with amazing cooperation, it would take decades to reach this goal.  So for decades of amazing agricultural cooperation and effort, water quality would be very poor at best.  This means cost dumped on water users to continue to clean basically “farm water.”  This cost does not take into account increasing problems with outright water toxicity in lakes, nor doe sit begin to touch on soil depletion costs and major costs to dredge myriad water bodies due to unusually rapid silting.

Resources are being extracted industrially rather than being stewarded.    

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Magic And Miracle Of Living Water, Down To The Micro

Gomphonema clevei

LET’S START OUT very clear on this point: Water is water in the everyday.  We spend more time in the shower and let the tap run because water is water.   There is no magic in it, UNTIL there is a sustained drought.  Then it rains down for everyone as grace itself, nearly manna from heaven. 

You like the little, personal, back country 4-wheeler that can go anywhere?  Yeh, getting out in  the county side and woodland. 4-wheeler spells freedom, escape from routine.  And a beautiful place to go is in the mud alongside a stream or river, especially when the water is low.  This is your right to be FREE and not thinking at all, and just turn it loose is a dance of freedom.  You are entitled.  Freedom is what it’s about!

The “mud,” the stream edge and shallows, that you roar through are a house of life.  You’re a “Mudder,” you’re free and you’re singing your freedom song with your twist of the throttle.  

In that mud are the Gomphonema, delicate silica diatoms, making oxygen and fixing nitrogen.  So whether that ever becomes important to you or not, there is a dynamic at work of which your “freedom” has no awareness.  One little muddy place is one little muddy place.  But there are muddy places and less-traveled terrains that do the very work of the world that holds you up.  This absence of information about how the world really works will likely not destroy the world at this micro level of your stream ride.  But the sense of water as alive and complex and doing great work while you play and destroy amplifies your abusive ignorance.

Rather than try to compare the micro and macro, or to detail how one scale is really the other, just an intro here to the diatoms that really run the planet with their presence in the ocean and stream and how they contribute deeply, DEEPLY to the Earth’s oxygen, carbon-fixing (in your ignorance you get a tiny question mark as to what carbon-fixing might mean), and, finally, to the beginning of the food chain.  

The massive planet Earth runs on massive micro actions, not on your actions.

When you look at “mud,” perhaps try to imagine that you are more ignorant than you can imagine.  Where you are likely to see nothing, there is rich complexity that is the work of the world.

And if science has found it, you can find it.

Algae and diatoms and myriad other life forms in what appears to be a wasteland.  It’s not just muddy by accident, it is there for a reason, for an intelligence that not one of your kind can understand enough to replicate.  And all you have to do right now it just recognize this and show some care when you can.   


stream edge on Walnut Creek, with oxygen bubbles/algae and silt

AND SO A LOOK at one small landscape:

Diatoms are producers within the food chain. A unique feature of diatom cells is that they are enclosed within a cell wall made of silica (hydrated silicon dioxide) called a frustule.

Diatoms are important as they:
• provide the basis of the food chain for both marine and freshwater micro-organisms and animal larvae
• are a major source of atmospheric oxygen responsible for 20-30% of all carbon fixation on the planet
can act as environmental indictors of climate change.

Diatoms have cell walls made of silica, Each species has a distinct pattern of tiny holes in the cell wall (frustule) through which they absorb nutrients and get rid of waste.  Viewed under microscopes, diatoms show a huge variety of shapes with many interesting and beautiful patterns. Their shapes and structure are usually highly regular and symmetrical, and these features are used to identify and classify them. 

Phytoplankton are the smallest of all plankters ranging from around 1mm to as small as 7.5 micrometers making them mostly invisible to the naked eye.
All diatoms have a siliceous (glassy) exoskeleton of two halves that fit inside one another perfectly. 

Plankton means wandering in Greek and many diatoms remains as isolated cells and spend their whole lives adrift whilst others forms chains/clumps. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Bottom Line On Iowa Water



EVER?  Really?

Yah, ever. Really.

Cleaning water costs  big money in mitigation and puts land out of production.

Present levels of production and increasing production is essential for sustainability of Iowa ag.  

Iowa ag has transitioned to industrialized ag. It is not the ag of the past.

“Sustainability” translates equally with survivability if you are either a little or big landowner/land exploiter.  If you are a little landowner, you are being dragged in the tail of corporate ag, unless you want to go bankrupt.  You might e able to mount a little organic local food farm, and sell pumpkins and pies and give rides and construct a maize, but if its corn and soy, no way.


The majority of landowners do not like the Federal EPA imposing regulations with regard to limits on chemical release from farmland.  And guess what?  You’re not doing it now, and nothing is happening to you.  And like you realize well, mitigating water pollution by installing changes to your land will not make you $$$.  And further guess what, the state and the federal government are in you hands, so nothing is going to happen to you.

So even if the state government imposes additional taxes on the general population of Iowa, OR diverts the 2010 $$$ designed more for the natural habitat, you will still not benefit financially.  You might “mitigate” some of the public criticism, but I think you can live with that.  Your public spokes-groups will be a little uncomfortable, but they have taken the marketing courses in how to tweak stained images.


Given this look into the future, you know your are not going to change en masse either fast or slow.  So perhaps, taking pity on the masses, you encourage spending public $$$, not yours of course even though you are the major source of the problem, on treating the water that will never be cleaned.


The blog, IOWA WATER, has many ides on improving water quality.  However, it is not an activist, political blog suggesting that we need to do this now. It is presented with the sense that there are answers but that they will not be enacted.  The answers are here if you want them, but there is a realization that there is no use on getting all huffy about a needed change because it is not going to happen until there is that sense that comes with a longstanding drought.  It will be a literal drought of rain but rather a severe public health concern that will then radically force a change and a step away from the myths that protect Iowa ag as feeding the world.  

The IOWA WATER blog is more of a letter to the future documenting that we knew what to do way back then, but were unwilling to do it.

Monday, November 7, 2016

We Do Not Save The Earth; The Earth Saves Us

Great Blue Heron / Raccoon River, Iowa, [Paige Andreas photo, Nov 2016]

The Your 2 Cents’ Worth excerpts, Part 5 [various readers submissions/ Des Moines Register]:

NOTE: “2 Cent” folks are published anonymously in the DM Register.  With anonymity, you can say damn near anything, but that doesn’t guarantee you make the paper.   This “secrecy” brings out the cranky curmudgeon, sour, grip aspect of folks that is typically not our best side.  But, goddammit, sometimes something needs to be said, and when it comes to water quality--or lack thereof in Iowa water--these comments are often spot-on in fact.  

We could simply bow to the river or go there with quasi-shamanic drums and good intentions and, likely, and perhaps more realistically than trying to do something politically, we might eventually psycho-spiritually really clean the waters (in sort of the way of our Maharishi friends in Fairfield, Iowa try to do, by “just getting that right quantity of  meditative participants to tweak the universe in the right direction.”) 

I think the admonition that “We do not save the Earth, the Earth saves us,” is likely the real way things work.  When it comes to water quality, it is not really about saving the Earth, but rather about improving human life.

And yet, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to alter our approach, given the fact that our drinking water, cleansed of nitrates, smells like chemical.  Rather than hope in Iowa that our eternal governor Branstad will clean our water, we need to wake up and top being abused by total lies.  Go back, year by year if you must, and find his actions for clean water instead of legislation and support for degradation of water.  This is not just a Branstad-thing; it is the American way that needs tob e confronted.  The American “dust bowl” is the not the result of drought.  It is the result of exploitation and, literally, lies by money-makers that ruined folks lives.  We live in a time where science is a wondrous strategy that has literally made more people, but that is often disregarded as a fact when the facts do not support the reality.  In Iowa, the 2016 push is for a 3/8th penny sale tax to support physical changes in the farm landscape that would improve water quality.

We likely need to do much more than pay a tax that will not alter the industrial ag system.  We need to call them out for their deception.  Why? because it is harmful right now.  It would barely touch the problem, and has no expectations.  

While it can sound esoteric, we might begin to listen to the voice of water as if it is trying to tell us something important--not just for better smelling water or even for health.  Perhaps water is holy and sacred in a way that holy and sacred are practical and economically rich.  We have water in Iowa that is cloud-given, and fairly dependable, for which folks across the globe would give their eye-teeth.  The clatter or everyday life seems to overwhelm us.  It is a time to slow, listen, and see what appears.  It’s not for certain and “certain” is what we like.  Sorry, no certain, not ever.


Tim Urban, “Farmers are protected; what about other Iowans?,” Letters To Editor, Des Moines Register, 10/25/16:

A report on KCRG TV in Cedar Rapids revealed that “nearly all Iowa farms, about 154,000 enrolled in safety-net programs, are going to get financial assistance for the 2015 crop year.”  The programs are designed to protect against drops in crop prices due to market downturns.  The Iowa Farm Service Agency said corn prices are 32 percent below the benchmark price for the Agricultural Risk Coverage program, and soybeans are 27 percent below the benchmark price.

It seems the height of hypocrisy for farm interests to lambaste Democrats for too many government subsidies while they are protected from the vagaries of the market place.  It is even more remarkable that during times when farm interests were making large profits, they resisted conservation set-asides or other policies to mitigate against nitrate pollution.  I am in favor of price supports but I would like to see the farm lobby start to favor government spending on pollution mitigation, including the 3/8 percent sales tax increase approved by Iowa voters and taxation of fertilizer to pay for nitrate mitigation.

If Iowa farmers are protected from low prices, Iowa residents should be protected from farm pollution.
[bold, Kinseth]


Why do self-described futurists focus so much on technology?  It would be just as helpful to talk about what we’re going to do as global aquifers steeply drop and global topsoil washes away in massive amounts.  Not as much fun as driverless cars, of course, so maybe that’s why.


I have a three-year-old wetland on the edge of my land that cleans water from neighboring cornfields.  It gets too much pollution, and now two neighbors are adding drainage tile that will increase the pollution.  Iowa is not serious about clean water.


Terry Branstad saying he’ll lead the cleanup of Iowa’s polluted water is like Donad Trump saying he respects women.


Indians were the first Americans.  The white man drove them from their land onto reservations.  Again they are trying to protect the land given to them from the white man!  Water is, to them, the source of life and a pipeline is going to be built under the Missouri River.  Who is that callous and stupid?


A major Iowa farm group claims their recent poll shows most Iowans trust farmers to take care of the environment.  If so, I guess we're back to blaming the  Water Pollution Fairy and her evil magic wand.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Farm Chemotherapy: Exploitation vs. Stewardship Model

THE IOWA SOIL FERTILITY is some of the best and rarest in Earth’ biosphere.

And yet, Iowa agriculture now has to push chemical use to spur plant growth.  It is no longer enough to rely on the soil fertility.  Crop seeds that favor more bushels per acre are, of course favored.  It seems to make sense to produce as much as one can.  And having set the wheels in motion for highest production, crop production now requires the high production to economically sustain.  

Now unable to really claim any sense of land stewardship, modern Iowa agriculture is exploiting the landscape much like commercial ocean fishing does.  And in this exploitation, just as commercial fishing is depleting fish stock and shrinking the size of fish, Iowa agriculture is depleting soil fertility.  This exploitation [i.e., maximum out-take] while obvious is, paradoxically, so common as to be oblivious--not unlike the perception of fishing communities who oppose limits as impacting negatively economically.

Chemotherapy: This is now how farming is done.

Corn and soy production now require chemical additives such as nitrogen, phosphate, potash, lime, herbicide, pesticide and, increasingly, fungicide.

Data: How much Iowa chemo is being laid down?

In 2004, [Iowa Geological Survey, Technological Information Series 47, 2004] 
4 million tons (8 billion pounds) of nitrogen were applied, averaging perhaps 216 pounds/acre; and
240,000 tons (480 billion pounds) of phosphorus, averaging perhaps 13 pounds/acre.
And this rate has continued now for decades.

[other sources related to pesticides]: In 2014, Iowa farms applied herbicides on 95% of corn-planted acres, totaling 30 million pounds of material.  In addition, fungicide was applied to 19% of corn acres, insecticides on 13%.  

In 2015, Iowa farms applied herbicide on 93% of soy-planted acres, and insecticides on 25% and fungicides on 18%.

These chemicals have an impact on the bioregion itself from the micro-organisms on up the chain of life to human life.  The impact of this chemical usage is exacerbated by farming practices that wash the chemical into the watershed and leach it into the groundwater (aquifers) and “unglue” the soil structure in autumn with no cover crops to expedite release into the watershed.

Pesticides are present in untreated rural water wells and urban water treatment plants.  Lab research connects pesticides to medical disorders such as cancer, parkinson’s disease, thyroid disease, reproductive toxins.  In everyday life, when examining, for example, cancer in a farmer, it is difficult to link it to a pesticide.  Long-range impacts of persistent chemicals is also difficult to determine.
Nitrates and phosphates and pesticides are present in water treated for potable water.

Random pesticide/human data as examples: One water treatment plant in NE Missouri may spend $130,000 to remove atrazine [pesticide].  In 1988/1989, rural water wells were tested form 27 different pesticide.  Eleven were detected as well as 5 other chemical that result from pesticide breakdown.  One or more pesticides were detected in nearly 14% of wells tested.  The effect on health is unclear.

There are other chemical also present in the water such as antibiotics and hormones.

Farm chemotherapy is now consistently present every year, and it is accepted practice that costs farmers.  In Ag Mag, June 9, 2015, Anne Weir Schechinger sketches the conclusion of a 2/17/2015 article in the journal Environmental Research Letters which argues that environmental health problems caused just bey nitrogen pollution cost the public 2 times the value of the $76.7 billion total value of corn produced for grain in the Untied States in 2011 when prices for corn were high ($157 billion in nitrogen pollution damage to human health).  There is some concern that these figures are low because, for example, they do not figure in higher discharges in autumn when nitrogen is not used by plants and with no cover crops is subject to more release.  I would speculate that it is difficult to directly measure impact on health in accurate health dollars.  However, what is important here is that there is a huge economic cost to the United States in public health costs from the voluminous use of nitrogen, not to mention, other fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and animal waste.  And Iowa agriculture contributes disproportionately higher in ag chemical release.  For example the nitrogen stream load from Iowa is estimated to be equivalent to 20% of the long-term nitrogen load carried by the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

Iowa agriculture gripes about a lawsuit by the Des Moines Water Works.  In the future, Iowa agriculture or the state of Iowa could be presented with lawsuits from Gulf states.

Iowa chemotherapy does remarkable COSTLY damage to the Iowa environment and Iowa public health and contributes to downstream issues all the way into the Gulf of Mexico.  

Interestingly, Iowa’s 4 million annual tons of nitrogen that is applied to Iowa farmland is a small part of the 131 million tons of ammonia produced globally annually.  The United States produces 6%, with China producing 32%, India 8.9%, Russia 7.9%, etc., with 80% of this global production used to fertilize crops.