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Look at the price they make you pay

Secchi depth is a water quality measurement of clarity.

An 8”-diameter black and white disk is lowered into the water (flat side parallel to the water’s surface) and the first depth at which it can’t be seen is recorded.

It’s one of the oldest of all quantitative water quality measurements. Catholic priest Pietro Angelo Secchi demonstrated the technique to Pope Pius IX while onboard the pope’s yacht in 1865.


Measurement of Secchi depth. From: Carruthers, T.J., Longstaff, B.J., Dennison, W.C., Abal, E.G. and Aioi, K., 2001. Measurement of light penetration in relation to seagrass. Global seagrass research methods, pp.370-392.

We still use this simple but elegant method today and Iowa Department of Natural Resource's (DNR) ambient water monitoring program assesses lakes for clarity in this manner.

Research shows that the public’s perception of “good” water quality corresponds to a Secchi depth of about 3 feet; in other words, a depth where you can see your toes when standing in waist deep water (1).

Iowa has a little over 100 lakes, and their degraded condition keeps DNR busy restoring them.

You can easily make the case that lake restoration is the best thing Iowa DNR does.

Magic carpet ride

You may have heard that some insanely rich and politically connected guys want to burrow like a badger beneath an Iowa cornfield so they can lay some pipe that will ultimately carry carbon dioxide (CO2) to the hinterlands.

I wrote about this before with my essay "C is for Carbonalism," but, and this probably comes as no surprise, that first essay didn’t discourage those badgers one darn bit.

So, I brought in a big gun, Professor Emeritus Matt Liebman, recently retired from Iowa State University where he was Henry A. Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture, to beef up my storytelling with some juicy T-bone cred.

Actually, he wrote about all of this; I just sexed it up a little bit.

We are tired of waiting for our leaders to lead

Aaron Salter Jr., 55, was on duty at the security job that supplemented his retirement income. Ruth Whitfield, 86, was buying groceries. Celestine Chaney, 65, stopped in for strawberries for the shortcake she and her sister were eager to enjoy.

But their plans went awry Saturday afternoon. Salter’s work shift ended sooner than he expected. Whitfield didn’t make it through her grocery list. And thoughts of strawberry shortcake evaporated in a flash for Chaney.

The three were slaughtered along with seven other people at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. Just like the 20 students, all 6 and 7 years old, and six employees who were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. Just like the 60 people who were gunned down at a music festival in Las Vegas in 2017.

If only our government officials were as interested in these individuals as were the political leaders who have obsessed over University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas and her decision to compete for the Quakers or NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the national anthem.

Recent news has been hip-deep in irony

Irony has been so deep in recent days that we shouldn’t be surprised if people start walking around with their chore boots on or with the cuffs on their pants rolled up to avoid the mess.

Consider:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made an observation Friday that caused some people’s eyes to bug in disbelief.

Speaking in Atlanta to a group of judges and lawyers, he said of American society these days, “We are becoming addicted to wanting particular outcomes, not living with the outcomes we don’t like.”

There certainly are plenty of examples of that, both among Democrats and among Republicans. But Thomas failed to acknowledge any connection between his statement and the actions of his wife, Ginni, in the weeks leading up to the inauguration of President Joe Biden on Jan. 20, 2021.

Iowa's 'Singularity,' AKA ethanol senselessness

A "singularity" is a mathematical term for a situation where all known laws break down, and nothing makes sense. Physicists often use this term to describe the first fractions of the first second of the universe’s Big Bang origin, when even time didn’t really exist.

It occurred to me recently that here in Iowa, we have our own singularity. It’s called Ethanol. A state of senselessness, where all laws break down and math and science and even logic cease to exist.

I’ve written about (some would say railed about) ethanol many times. Why? Because corn ethanol for fuel is stupid. The industry exists by virtue of one reason and one reason only: government policy. The environmental benefits of using corn to produce a liquid biofuel HAVE ALWAYS been more desperation-half-court-heave than slam dunk, it’s lower potential energy when compared to gasoline makes the 10% blend number an obvious head fake, and its dominance of American politics has kept higher energy players sitting at the end of the bench. So why does ethanol get its ticket punched to the Big Dance year after year after year?

Politics. Liberal politicians from Joe Biden to Amy Klobuchar to Dick Durbin to Sherrod Brown to Cindy Axne to the Iowa City dogcatcher provide all the cover Republicans in general and Iowa Democratic state legislators in particular need to continue force feeding us this rancid cod liver oil until kingdom come.


Liquid biofuel volumes required by the Renewable Fuel Standard. The cellulosic requirements have never been met and EPA has waived them every year. Source: Department of Energy

How did this two-bit, two-carbon alcohol get enshrined as Iowa’s golden calf? A generation ago, GMO seeds and a favorable climate continued to increase corn yields, and by god, nature truly does abhor a vacuum and something had to step in to gobble up all that junk organic carbon laying around, otherwise known as #2 Dent. Enter the Energy Policy Act of 2005, also known as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) or if you're an Iowan, the 11th Commandment, that required blending of biofuels with gasoline. Grain-derived ethanol was to be a bridge fuel until cellulosic (ethanol made from leaves, stalks etc.) took over, but cellulosic flopped and is now riding the bench for the ANF’s Sandhill Cranes D league team in Middleofnowhere, Nebraska.

Is it OK for teachers to push some views?

I’m confused.

Some of our political leaders seemed to be talking out of both sides of their mouths about why it is wrong for public school employees to engage in what the leaders think is pushing a point of view onto students.

These leaders need to figure out whether it is good — or is it bad? — when school employees are involved in what critics call indoctrination.

On one hand, some K-12 school districts around the nation have been up to their chalk boards in controversy over allegations teachers are trying to pass on to students the teachers’ opinions on LGBTQ issues, transgender rights, or disparities involving the races.

But this week, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case out of Bremerton, Wash., where a football coach’s post-game prayers on the 50-yard line have divided residents and split politicians nationwide more than any football rivalry.

Statehouse standoff leaves Iowans in the dark

The 100th day of the 2022 legislative session in Iowa is Tuesday.

I know that’s probably not a day marked on your calendar. Most Iowans don’t pay much attention to whether the Legislature is in session or not. Those who celebrate Easter, Passover or Ramadan may have been spending time with family. Others may be planning their gardens, attending kids’ track meets and working toward the end of the school year. Some may have spent the weekend figuring out their taxes.

Speaking of taxes, yours are paying for everything that happens at the Iowa Statehouse, and guess what? Not much is happening right now. And whatever may be happening is being done in secret, behind closed doors, where you aren’t welcome.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst summed it up: “First and foremost, I want to echo what I’ve heard from so many Iowans who have reached out to me over the last few days and said the phrase: ‘The hell’s going on up there?’”

The Republicans who control the Iowa House, Senate and governor’s office have been unable to reach agreement on some key elements of the governor’s agenda. As a result, work on the state budget is at a standstill.

CRP, ethanol, water quality and ag dishonesty

Published Saturday, April 2, 2022

I wrote Stop Saying We All Want Clean Water (SSWAWCW) on a snowy April weekend three years ago, and here I am again looking down at my keyboard and up at falling snow. Why does spring snow seem so aberrant to us when its appearance is a near certainty? I guess you could say that about other things too.

SSWACW was written as a manifesto of sorts, a stream-of-consciousness-volcano-of-frustration erupting because I’d had it with the brazen dishonesty that characterizes establishment agriculture and Iowa’s water quality.

Having been around a while, I had no expectation that the essay would change things, and the last time I checked, truth in agriculture is still about as common as an acre of Iowa farmland carpeted with a cover crop.

Just like our bad water, this dishonesty isn’t unique to Iowa; the entire cornbelt is awash in both.

Iowa is losing its way on our public schools

This is one of those times when people who have little appetite for politics need to pay attention — because a big change is coming that many folks won’t agree with.

When the U.S. Mint asked each state to pick an image to represent the state on a series of special quarters in 2004, Iowa chose its schools. The quarter featured a likeness of Grant Wood’s famous painting of a one-room country school, with the message “Foundation in Education.”

The choice was not surprising. Our schools have been something in which Iowans have long taken great pride. Our chests swelled each time Iowa stood atop the nation’s college entrance exam rankings. Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds even campaigned 10 years ago to bring Iowa’s schools up to world-class stature.

That was then. This year, Iowa’s foundation in education is being tested as surely as if an EF5 tornado were bearing down on every public-school building.

Bottle bill proposals leave Iowans holding their cans

Iowa lawmakers seem poised, with their latest effort to update the state’s popular but long-struggling bottle bill, to give everyone what they want.

Everyone, that is, except consumers.

What do consumers want? Most simply want the convenience of returning their empties to their grocery stores or nearby redemption centers. They also want to keep bottles and cans out of the ditches and the landfills.

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