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, July 27, 2017
What We Already Know From Long-Term Scientific Findings To Improve Iowa Water Quality
Use science and facts to shape future of state's land and water quality
Kamyar Enshayan, Iowa View, Des Moines Register, July 21, 2017
Urgency is a matter of perception.
After massive rainfall in 2008, one early June morning our fire chief updated Cedar Falls city staff and council members on the latest flood conditions; parts of the city were already flooded badly.
“The peak flood elevation is forecast to reach 6 feet higher than the previous highest in city’s history.”
We also learned that we had 24 hours to act to save downtown Cedar Falls.
An emergency was declared immediately. A command post was set up to coordinate an all-city response, school buses lined up to transport hundreds of volunteer residents for sand-bagging, businesses helped with dump trucks carrying sand, major rescue operations began in areas where residents were stranded, certain roads were closed to public. All other plans were put on hold. A massive mobilization effort saved our downtown during that flood.
Urgency is a matter of perception.
A child runs toward a busy street, grown-ups see the urgency and act. In this case, public officials perceived the emergency based on science and evidence — National Weather Service data, a vast network of monitoring stations, satellite and radar data, rainfall data, river gauges, and flood forecast modelling — and acted to protect public safety. There was no arguing, no dithering. Action based on robust evidence.
Now, imagine if at that time a well-financed group ran many ads on radio, TV and newspapers all over the region, and had published opinion pieces in local papers and had placed guest experts on radio talk shows, floating stories that we don’t know for sure if a flood is coming, saying let’s not overreact, and that all this talk of floods is a hoax. Imagine if they suggested that we really did not need the National Weather Service, because it was too much government. What would happen if public officials fell for such falsehoods instead of acting based on evidence?
Similarly, for the past many decades, global agribusiness agents in Iowa have been working hard to make sure Iowa’s public officials and residents do not perceive and do not act on the urgency of polluted streams, the urgency of soil erosion and contaminated drinking water, or the urgency of Iowans' well-being compromised by massive animal confinement operations, or by annual spraying of 35 million pounds of corn and bean pesticides.
They are working hard to tell Iowans that all is well, that we do not need a strong Department of Natural Resources, or investment in Iowa’s soil and water protection. And yet, through math, ecology and health sciences, we have robust and overwhelming evidence of these realities, meaning Iowans are in danger — much like the flood data that compelled Cedar Falls officials to perceive the emergency of the flood and act immediately.
State officials whose duty it is to protect Iowans are not perceiving Iowa’s situation as urgent, so devastation continues, even when we know a better Iowa is possible. If a foreign power had caused so much destruction in our state, we would send in the Marines.
But what if we did see land-degradation as an emergency, pivotal to our economy and the future of our state? I imagine a command post set up immediately for coordinating a massive mobilizing operation in Iowa. It would likely involve ecologists, hydrologists, land owners, farmers, cities, counties, public health officials and others to develop and enact policies that would incentivize and implement the best of what we already know from long-term robust scientific findings: more 4-5 year crop rotation, integration of crop and livestock, more deep-rooting perennials, more biodiversity, more and wider stream buffers, much less corn, far less corn fertilizer, far less pesticides, more cover crops, more small grains, more native Iowa prairie.
We would finally realize that we cannot allow Iowa’s soil and water to be degraded for the sake of foreign trade, and demand that we abandon cheap-corn federal policies that have in effect incentivized water pollution and soil erosion. [italics, Kinseth]
Urgency is a matter of perception. To perceive and act on the emergency of Iowa’s land and water degradation, science and evidence must guide and inform policy decisions, instead of hearsay or purchased political friendship.
KAMYAR ENSHAYAN is director of the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education.