Pollution going up, not down

We hate to say that we told you so, but we saw this coming: The Raccoon River Watershed Coalition is all but dead after just three years, and can barely give away about $2.5 million in funds for conservation projects.

The rural counties tried to boot the urban counties, but at least the coalition survived in name if not cooperative spirit following a 14-11 board vote on Friday in Storm Lake. 

They argued over whether the goal is to reduce pollution by 41 percent or 48 percent when in fact pollution is going up, not down — 41 percent and 48 percent are shiny academic distractions shrouding a fatal contradiction: we want to get 200 bushels of corn from every acre, right up to and even into the river, and dump manure on top of anhydrous, while claiming that we are stewards of God’s green Earth who can engineer our way out of darn near anything.

That joke is exposed. We call it the Iowa Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The idea is to install enough ingenious engineering devices to reverse the engineering that drained the marshes and that try to hold off the flushes inspired by extreme weather born of climate change. A bioswale here and a rain garden there, and we can go on doing what we do while losing a dollar a bushel doing it (covered by crop insurance or a government bailout).

A retention pond near Varina (the only project to come out of the coalition that we are aware of, since the plans are kept secret) cannot hold back the tide of nitrate and phosphorous bound to suffocate the Gulf of Mexico. 

It will take a different approach to the landscape that farmers on their own are figuring out, but which government programs ignore. 

We can solve the Raccoon River’s pollution by planting cover crops, period. No dams needed. But less than one percent of Buena Vista County is planted into a winter cover crop that sucks up all that excess fertilizer that the salesman tells us to apply. That’s because farmers think it doesn’t pay. The salesman said so, and what is the alternative?

If the government program paid less for planting corn in a chronically wet place (like river bottom) than grass, and if it were easy to comply, we would not need watershed boards taking votes on absurdities. 

If we paid farmers good money to plant strips of native vegetation in their fields, they would do it. 

But we do not. We cut funding for these programs in the last farm bill and increased crop insurance and disaster funding. Farmers are offered a cost share, not net positive revenue for taking an acre out of production. 

When you are losing a dollar a bushel growing corn as a slave for livestock conglomerates, cost shares do not look attractive. The state and the board could have saved themselves the time and anguish when we said years ago that this is all a program intended to justify the agrichemical paradigm — with the wonders of modern chemistry, we can engineer our way out of an engineering problem if we throw a bucket of money at it.

Except, we can’t engineer our way out of it. We are delivering more water and more fertilizer to the drainage system every year, and the dead zone in the Gulf gets larger. We can barely give away our crops to the Chinese. What is the point of growing 30 percent too much corn when the planet is, literally, on fire?

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Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161