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.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Farmers Increase Blame On Others In Hopes It Will Stick

In the following Des Moines Register Letter to the Editor, it is clearly stated that farmers blame others for Iowa’s water problems.  They do this because they are trapped in an industrial ag model that is only going to create more water, soil and health problems in Iowa as well as contribute to national problems.  Requests for public $$$ for mitigation will not begin to touch the current levels of pollution and soil degradation.  This is because mitigation efforts due not address the basic design of Iowa ag with tiling that channels chemicals into the watershed and no change and almost guaranteed increase in chemical application and factory farms. [Kinseth]


Farmers know how nitrates are getting into Iowa's rivers
Mike Delaney, Des Moines, Letter to the Editor December 27, 2016

In response to the Dec. 21 article “Group: Growth in suburbs, not nitrate levels, driving Water Works upgrades,” farmers know their fields. They know how much nitrogen and phosphorus they are putting on their fields. They know that about 90 percent of the nitrate in Iowa rivers is coming from their fields.

However, they are trapped in an expensive high-input (GMO seed, herbicide, pesticide, nitrogen and hog manure), high-food system that requires very expensive equipment and a lot of acres in row crops to succeed. They have limited other options. Farmers may repeat the Farm Bureau lines about golf courses, lawn fertilizer, geese and the bad ol' Des Moines Water Works, but most of them know better.

A few political players are or were involved in the Farm Bureau front group called Iowa Partnership for Clean Water. Google it and you will find that there is almost nothing there. This is all about attacking Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe and those who are concerned about the health consequences of drinking high nitrate water. If the Farm Bureau can get control of the Des Moines Water Works by expanding the board to include suburbs or by passing legislation, they will then stop the lawsuit and deny the health risks.

Of course those of us who pay attention to Iowa rivers and lakes do not need nitrate level statistics to prove that Iowa waters are much more polluted than they were in the recent past. My family used to swim in the Raccoon River not that long ago. Hog manure, soil, nutrients and bacteria now make that a bad idea. I worried about the kids in the tubes floating down the North Raccoon River last summer. Folks are getting rashes and infections from the Raccoon nowadays. That is too bad.

Truth is getting hard to decipher currently. I pray that The Des Moines Register will continue to try to sort things out for the common good of Iowans.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Sacred Water & Iowa, Part Two

Christi Belcourt

See previous post, Sacred Water & Iowa, Part One, 10/13/16

SEEING A PHOTOGRAPH of the biosphere from space in 1970, brought the idea of ecology into everyday life.  It was apparent that there was an integrated, inseparable “Earth” that as no longer a land and water stageset upon which human life wa played out.  Human life was inside this “environment.”

One of the more radical ideas of that time was the idea that there should be legal rights for “natural objects” such as forests or for rivers and their watersheds such as the Grand Canyon.  Christopher Stone’s essay, Should Trees Have Standing?: Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects [NY, William Kaufmann, 1972] proposed that natural events such as trees and lakes--like corporations--have legal rights.  For many, this idea is deemed preposterous, especially because of the way that it is seen to limit “human rights.  But one of the increasing ideas since the 1070s is an understanding is that environmental quality either optimizes or degraded human life.  Now, having peopled the Earth, with no vast physical frontiers to exploit and absorb exploitation, what human life does to the environment feeds back negatively on human life and, in the long run, it is even more costly to repair both the land and human health.

By 2000, mainstream religions were beginning to incorporate an ecological ethic in their practices as a priority issue.  There was also an increasing profane movement that was captured by the term “deep ecology.”  Book titles such as This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, Seeking the Well-Being of the Earth and Humans begin to suggest this spiritual/ethical/religious shift.

As we begin to look at Iowa Water in relationship to this deeper connection to landscape for the long-term sustainability of both nature and culture, ideas such as Gandhi’s agrian values are worth a look--food, justice, sustainability--for the way that they offer a different core value  or baseline for agriculture.  These values really challenge the reality of a corporate agriculture that is very production-based and that uses very intensive methods.  And they really challenge the practicality of a radical shift in day-to-day practices if agriculture is to literally be viable if it were to shift to a different set of core values.  But consideration of a different set of core values also begins to challenge the fantasy of industrial ag as environmentally healthy when it extracts the most it can from the landscape.  New values priorities also begin to challenge the economic pressures to sell to the highest bidder rather than justly “feed the world” or assume that it is the epitome of a spiritual stewardship of the landscape.  In Iowa, there is a very high degree of conflict between agricultural practices and ecological/spiritual values rather than a sense of harmony.  

In the real context of Iowa water quality, the idea of the legal rights of, for example, streams and rivers and lakes is an impossibility for Iowa ag.

In New Zealand and Uruguay, the rights of nature are codified into public law.  This is the consequence of a shift  to a sense that the environment affects human life AND the “heartbeat” and health of the landscape that makes it valuable to assure that the rights, for example, of the water can be addressed through jurisprudence. 

From 1970 to the early decades of the 21st Century, there is a major shift toward a sense of inseparability of the interests of nature and culture.  Rather than being a inert commodity to be used to morally and ethically and spiritually activate it, there is a profane and sacred sense of the landscape as “living” and profoundly complex  and active in a healthy way, and inseparable from human life, and optimizing human life both  in economic and healthy ways.  

Ethical values can broaden beyond strict human interests and can potentially improve human life quality as well.  In 1988, Sweden enacted an animal welfare law requiring cattle, pigs and chickens to be freed from the restrictions of intensive, or factory-farming methods for both humane reasons and food quality.  In Iowa, animal rights “whistle-blowers” on factory farms can be prosecuted.

In Hinduism, the river Ganga is considered sacred and is personified as a goddess Gaṅgā. It is worshipped by Hindus who believe that bathing in the river causes the remission of sins and facilitates Moksha (liberation from the cycle of life and death) [Wikipedia].

While the sacredness of water and landscape can seem outside Western ethics and spirituality, and remain primarily as an aspect of indigenous societies and “pagan” and pantheistic and monist religions, the sacredness of water does appear in the West in the Sea of Galilee, the spring at Lourdes, the Jordan River, the holy well at Chartres....
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So very useful, humble, precious and chaste.
Francis of Assisi, from The Canticle of Brother Sun

Iowa is gifted with water, and yet a sense of moral responsibility toward water as the “custodian of life” and treatment of water with respect and dignity would seem to be archaic and superstitious.  However, as water quality continues to diminish with little real hope for free-running quality water irregardless of our mitigation, an appreciation of water will continue to increase and a revelation of water as sacred stands to appear.  

Personal Water Use

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Iowa Water Stats Of Interest

Walnut Creek

[These statistics are drawn from various sources and are to be found in various IowaWater posts to date:
The stats illustrate a very clear environmental disaster that is increasing rather than decreasing that is directly related to Iowa agricultural practices.
What the stats do not clarify is the solution.  Conservation practices have been applied for decades and the problem with water quality is worse.
Mitigation efforts that would be initiated by increased public funding do not not really alter the primary sources of pollution due to field tiling that ACTS AS A CONDUIT THAT speeds up the release of chemical and sediment release, even those mitigation techniques that try to re-channel water through bio-reactors and saturated buffers and wetlands.  This is due also to resistance to installation of mitigation as well as resistance to direct source testing (i.e., right out of specific fields) and farming to the edges of land and farming in flood-prone areas to maximize crop production.]

loss of 99.9 % of Iowa’s prairies, 98% of Iowa wetlands, 80% of woodlands and more than a 100 species of wildlife since white settlement

Who will pay for water treatment? Who is causing the problem?  Why should the local water user be taxed for costs AND also pay a statewide 3/8th penny sales tax, when the source of pollution gets off for free [no specific regulation or taxes] AND will get subsidies for mitigation AND will increase chemical use causing even higher annual and long-term, multi-decade damage? $1.5 million to reduce, not eliminate, nitrate levels in Des Moines Water serving 500,000 central Iowa residents--1/6th of Iowa population using 10.1 billion gallons of water annually (based on 3 year average); DMWW spent $4.1 million in the early 90s to build the world’s largest ion exchange nitrate removal facility and it will need an even larger facility by 2020 that could cost up to $183.5 millionAmerican City Business Journal: Des Moines area anticipated to grow to nearly a million by 2040 (with nearly all rural population centers anticipated to continue to lose population); Regulation for water treatment to not return nitrates to water post-removal and high cost to water users not to farmers/landowners who have not regulations--over the next 5 years DSM Water Works will have to spend over $80 million to process REMOVED nitrates to dispose of these chemical rather than return to the water and $19 million to reduce phosphorus; Iowa has 260 cities and towns that area considers highly susceptible to excessive nitrates and other pollutants--about 30% of the state’s 880 municipal water systems..  Unlike Des Moines, many of these cities and towns have no facilities to remove nitrates.

Lake pollution/National: U.S EPA report: 4 0f 10 lakes suffer nationally from too much nitrogen and phosphorous; EPA National Lakes Assessment of 1,038 lakes: microcystin--agal toxin--in 39% of lakes, but below current level of concern as well as low levels of the herbicide atrazine in 30% of lakes

Iowa Lakes and streams: 78,990 acres of lakes/reservoirs out of 202,000 acres of lake and  6,372 miles of 72,000 miles of stream are documented to have pollution and sediment problems; half of Iowa rivers, steams and lakes that have been assessed are considered IMPAIRED

Iowa DOT:  100 year flood of 20th Century is now equivalent to 25 year flood, due to both water runoff and more intense weather due to greenhouse gases increases

Ethanol in EPA Renewable Fuel Standards increased in 11/2016 to 14.8 billion gallons nationally for 2017, 300 million gallons more than 2016, encouraging corn production increase, thus, increasing chemical increases: fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides.

23 to 30 million Iowa farm acres of corn and soy; for 2016, corn and soy harvest is projected to exceed 3.2 billion bushels

need 12 to 17 million acres of cover crops to meet NRS [EPA Nutrient Reduction Strategy] (has about 500,000 acres.  This is a “strategy,” not a plan, has no measurements/requirements: calls for building 7,000 conservation reserve wetlands (now has about 70), 120,000 saturated buffers and bio-reactors (has about 60), and this is with good effort.  Also, remember that this is required on a permanent basis for the level of current pollution to meet a 45% improvement, not a 100% clean water, and that it will compete with possible gains by planing corn/soy vs. govt. handout and need to be a permanent, not temporary, change that will not address increases in ag production.  There are no measures/ accountability.

proposed 3/8 penny taxes are solely funded by taxpayers; what is the legislated farmer/landowner ag corporate funding cost plan/expectation?

no taxes on fertilizers with increased use anticipated, as well as increased factory farm operations anticipated.

Myth of “feeding the world” or “being the breadbasket of the world”: 86% of the value of U.S. ag exports went to countries with low numbers of hungry people; only 1/2 of 1 percent went to 19 undernourished countries

Industrial Ag: in 2014, Iowa lost about 8,100 farms as in the previous 15 years  

Currently 8,000 factory farms in Iowa with next to no regulation despite sell-documented environmental impacts.

Amounts of fertilizer applied in Iowa: 8 trillion pounds or 4 million tons nitrogen applied per year or 216 lbs. per acre; 480 million pounds or 240,000 tons phosphates or 13 lbs. per acre (5% nitrogen end up in streams and 4% phos.); nitrogen application costing $74.40 acre if corn following corn or $54.40 acre if corn following soy, phosphate $24.30-31.05 acre; herbicide $38.10 acre, insecticide $18.80 acre

Amounts of pesticides applied in Iowa:  In 2014 Iowa farmers applied 95% herbicides on corn acres, totally more than 30 million pounds of material; fungicides on 19% of corn acres, insecticides on 13%.  In 2015, soybeans applied herbicides on 93% of acres, 25% insecticides, and a18% fungicides.

$4.4 billion spend on conservation in Iowa just through federal dollars in the pst 20 years and problems are more severe; In 2015, $120 million through federal, state and private resources for conservation

300,000 Iowans have private wells, where 90% are never tested for contaminants

Gulf hypoxia data: 41% of nitrogen pollution from farm fertilizer vs. 7% from urban; The “nitrogen load from Iowa ia equivalent to 20% of long-term load carried by Mississippi to Gulf

National human health costs from nitrogen pollution: Farm Nitrogen pollution damage estimated at $157 annually [Ann Weir Schechinger Ag Mag, June 9, 2015); Environmental Research Letter [journal] 2/17/2015 estimates the environmental health problem caused by nitrogen pollution at 2X the value of $76.7 billion total value of corn; some of the harsh problems associated with elevated nitrate in water include, blue baby syndrome, birth defects (spina bifida/oral cleft defects), bladder/thyroid cancer, but nitrate exposure can also come from some vegetables, processed meats, cigarette smoke, and certain “nitrosatable” or nitrogen-based compounds in drugs.

Drainage tiles in fields: Drainage tiles have cut in half the average time it takes nitrates to enter Iowa waterways.  That flow is even more dramatically accelerated in heavily tiled areas.  The tiles in particular short-circuit a lot of the natural processing that would go on as groundwater would slowly move through the system.  That means the water misses the cleansing that would naturally occur through trees, shrubs and grasses in riparian buffers along streams. Or it could percolate through soil, potentially to the aquifer. Without it, experts say, it leads to higher concentration of nitrates in the river and waterways.

98% of Iowans are not employed in agriculture; almost 91 cents of every dollar comes from businesses other than agriculture; an industry that generates 10% of GDP contributes to 90% of water quality issues

Monday, December 5, 2016


Lance Kinseth, Heron On River 1, ink

Text extracted from unpublished novella, Lance Kinseth, 
This Single Grace Persisting, A Man & A Woman Who Caught On Fire

The essence of rivers becomes wise people.
from “Mountains And Waters Sutra”
(Sansui-kyo, Section 14)

TO KEEP A RIVER is to do no less than to become a river.  To keep a river is to live awake to a sense of being deeply--profoundly--immersed rather than standing apart.

To keep a river is to begin to awaken to rivers of development, land uprising and eroding, currents of seasons and stars and respiration and thought.  To keep is river is to have the very best of high human life. 

River-keeping is not a recapitulation of a feudal tradition of water and game management on vast estates nor is it modern-day public conservation.  This is not to say that these activities cannot be entryways.  The feudal river keeper’s continual presence with the physical river may swell to devotion to the river more than to the estate.  River-keeping is finally neither economic stewardship of a physical landscape nor simply blissful pursuit of an intimate affection for the river.

River-keeping is spiritual revelation that transforms the keeper--opening to the way that they themselves are being kept by the river, by place.  The keeping is the river’s and the good grasses’ keeping.  And when this is downplayed and even forgotten, “conservation” and “stewardship” are false illusions that serve other agendas.

River-keeping is more than keeping a line of water in some particular state.  The river and the soils that it drains are more than a line and a tabletop.  They express a living intelligence that we can only join and, for all of our exquisite knowledge, never completely know.  To understand the river, we can neither push it nor cut it into parts.  We can go and listen and sound in these landscapes but only barely fathom energies that are woven into the morning star and beyond. While we will use these terrains, such actions tend to create a wall more than absorb us, and therein lies a danger that can “un-keep” us.

If we could keep this river--this rivering that is inherent in the land, in the incoming rainfall and its ocean, in the sun current, and inside each of us--what might our agriculture and our cities become?  Why is it that we settle for so little, and even decimate that which keeps us, that which is the heart of health and life to us? 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Don’t Drain The Swamp

Informed, Not Uniformed, Idiocy--Iowa Water Pollution Is Conscious Disregard 

Your 2 Cents’ Worth excerpts, Part 6 [various readers submissions/ Des Moines Register]:

“Drain the swamp,” as an image for ending corruption, is both backward and senseless now that landowners across the nation are being paid to restore swamps and other wetlands in order to solve flood an pollution problems.  We need to restore swamps, not drain them.


I attended a land auction in which a farmer paid $1,300,000 for a new cornfield.  But that farmer has no buffers or cover crops on his other land and probably won’t put them on his new land.  He can afford farm conservation, but apparently isn’t interested.


Iowa farmers should remember that Iowa children are learning about water quality in their classrooms now.  When they are old enough to vote, they will expect clean lakes and rivers, not excuses for why farm conservation has to be optional and very slow.


When historians fifty years from now are trying to figure out why we were such amazing idiots about climate change in the early years of this century, Election 2016 will figure prominently in their research.


Are the owners of the Dakota pipeline going to commit suicide to save face when their pipeline rusts and fails, polluting soil and water when they claim that would be virtually impossible.
We’ll see at the first earthquake.
[Note: A pipeline exec has stated that leaking pipelines are a reality at some point.] 

[Note: Pipeline already damaging Iowa, not just potential breaks]

Excerpts from Letter To Editor, Des Moines Register, 11-25-16: Richard and Judith Lamb, “Pipeline speed forward at expense of farmland,”:

Dakota Access, the Bakkan Pipeline builder, has construction violations that were dismissed by the Iowa Utilities Board.  “Dakota Access and the IUB have twisted the permit language to allow Dakota Access to speed construction at the expense of preserving Iowa farmland.”
Topsoil mixing and compaction in wet condition construction are some specific examples that have not been monitored.

If Iowa farmers were required to drink the water from under the land they farm, I bet water quality would improve.