Chris Jones's blog

This might hurt some feelings; or what can be done to actually improve Iowa's water quality

“To be radical is to simply grasp the root of the problem. And the root is us.” - Howard Zinn, 1999.

There’s a page on my website where I post the powerpoint slides from presentations I conduct. I took a look at that page this morning, and over the last five years I have conducted 69 programs for various groups, or about one a month on average. I reckon that at about half of these I get the question, “what can be done”, this in regard to Iowa water quality and pollution generated by the corn-soybean-CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) production model.

People have been thinking about “what can be done” for a long time.

Because of industry and farmer recalcitrance and hostility toward regulation, various ideas for improving water quality have focused on either (1) enticing farmers to voluntarily adopt practices that reduce erosion and nutrient loss without major modifications to the production system or (2), promotion of concepts like increased crop diversity and improved soil health that do require substantial management changes.

I suppose you could also throw land retirement in there, but this has not been tried on any significant scale in Iowa since the 1980s.

Stop saying we all want clean water

Originally posted on Chris Jones' blog April 14, 2019

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard or read the phrase “we all want clean water."

If so, in all likelihood it came from someone of stature or someone knowledgeable about water quality issues.

Today, I had the idea to shake the Google tree and see what fruit fell to the ground when I entered the phrase “we all want clean water.”

It turns out one of our politicians has been quoted saying this so many times that I had a hard time figuring out who else had said it, so I started plucking names out of my head and attaching them to the phrase.

What resulted was an impressive list, a veritable who’s who of Iowa politics and agriculture.

'No Country for Old Men' informs struggle to stop pollution of state streams, lakes and rivers

I packed up my 20-year-old pickup and 35-year-old camper last week and took a virus-inspired trip to Arkansas. Iowa campgrounds have been closed for some time now, and those in Missouri closed October 31. Looking further south, I found that Arkansas state park campgrounds are open year-round and I picked Crowley’s Ridge State Park because of its proximity to Iowa (far NE Arkansas) and because there was a lake to fish in.

Crowley’s Ridge is one of the state’s six landforms, a giant alluvial deposit formed near the prehistoric confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The 200-mile-long sandbar has been amended and elevated with an eon’s worth of wind-blown loess, such that the feature bulges like an arthritic spine 200 feet above the surrounding alluvial plane.

Like Western Iowa’s own Loess Hills, the soil on Crowley’s Ridge is thick and fertile, and the first settlers to the area (Crowley was the first) farmed the ridge because the surrounding bottomlands were unmanageably wet. Also like our own Loess Hills, the soil was highly vulnerable to erosion because of slope and texture. But in contrast to Iowa, where 27% of the Loess Hills is still cropped with corn and soybean (1), Arkansans had the good sense to surrender these hills to nature in the 1930s, and the ridge was re-forested to the original pine, oak and hickory, more characteristic of the Appalachians far to the east than the nearby Ozark Plateau to the west.

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