IOWA’S UNIQUE FARM LAND TRUST PROMOTES SUSTAINABLE LOCAL FOOD PRODUCTION & LAND CONSERVATION PRACTICES
By Mary Ellen Miller, SILT Board Member and member of the LWV UMRR Board
Iowa is No. 1 in a lot of things, but the most relevant to those who care about the health of our waters is that we're now the No. 1 contributor to the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Every year we allow five tons of top soil per acre to blow or wash away. Efforts to correct the flow of our precious topsoil and excess nutrients down the Mississippi River include implementing aggressive conservation programs and changing current farming practices. Iowa currently imports over 90 percent of its food while boasting that we “feed the world.” The growing local food movement has created an opportunity for farmers interested in growing local, healthy foods sustainably. However, access to land is the No. 1 obstacle for beginning farmers, and the high cost of land disproportionately affects farmers who want to grow local, healthy food.
Iowa boasts one of the most unique land trusts in the Midwest, the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT), a group formed in response to a multitude of problems caused by industrial agriculture. Dedicated to protecting land to grow healthy food, this nonprofit founded in 2014 uses conservation easements and land donations to keep future land use for nature-friendly, neighborhood-friendly, table food farms. Often called "market farms" this land that rings growing communities is always under pressure from housing development. Federal commodity supports also keep land values out of reach for beginning local food farmers. In these days of a pandemic, the wisdom of keeping local land dedicated to local food should be more appreciated than ever.
SILT does not allow annual crops of any kind to be grown on any slopes, reducing the amount of eroded soil that ends up in our waters. SILT encourages the planting of perennial crops on slopes to help a farmer continue to make a living while still holding soil. And SILT requires a reduction to nearly zero of synthetic chemicals because we believe healthy soils provide all the nutrients they need to grow food. Every SILT farm includes an aggressive conservation plan to preserve the land for future generations.
SILT helps Iowans reclaim our rich farming history – the growing of healthy food for our families and neighbors – by helping landowners pass on their legacy to the next generation of farmers. SILT has protected 935 acres across nine farms in its five years and has another half-dozen farms slated for protection this year and next. It has helped 15 next generation farmers gain access to affordable land. For more information, scenic videos and more, go to www.silt.org.
Information in this post is shared from the Mississippi River Network.
With an emphasis on "smart from the start" federal decision making, NEPA protects our health, our homes, and our environment, while ensuring we, the public, have a voice. Since 1970, NEPA has empowered citizens and demanded government accountability on major projects such as constructing a dam, highway, or power plant.
NEPA is the cornerstone federal environmental law based on the common-sense notion of 'look before you leap', requiring that any major action undertaken, permitted, or funded by the federal government be assessed to determine its impact on our air, land, and waters. The NEPA process has saved money, time, lives, historical sites, endangered species, and public lands while encouraging compromise and cultivating better projects with more public support.
The law provides opportunities for communities and individuals to learn about projects affecting their neighborhoods, evaluate the impacts of the project as described in the Environmental Impact Statement, and make their voices heard through the public comment process.
Lowlights of the proposed changes include:
NEPA is truly the people's environmental law as it ensures the public has a voice - lend yours in support today!
The Mississippi River Network's Action page includes a form for submitting comments through their action network, or you can click "Read More" below for a link to the proposed rule and information on how to submit comments of your own. LWV UMRR has signed on to a group comment letter opposing the changes, and is sending additional comments on those parts of the changes that impact public participation in environmental decisions. The additional comment letter is attached below, FYI, as well as the LWV US position on public participation in environmental decision making.
THE DEADLINE FOR COMMENTS IS MARCH 10, SO ACT NOW.
The EPA just announced the new Waters of the US (WOTUS) rule on Jan. 24, 2020. The US EPA's website for the rule is here. Following is analysis from LWV UMRR, based on reading the rule and comments from other nonprofits. A previous blog post on this website, from April 2019, provides further information on the rule.
The graphic to the left is based on the proposed rule. How the final rule differs from the proposed is described below.
Thanks to Carolyn Mahlum-Jenkins for her work on this article.
What waters are included Clean Water Act protections in the final (WOTUS) rule?
The most significant difference between the proposed rule (described in the April post) and the final rule is the treatment of some waters connected by ephemeral streams. Ephemeral streams are those streams that only last for a short time after precipitation. In the proposed version of the rule, if upstream perennial and intermittent tributaries were connected to a water of the United States by an ephemeral stream, they were not WOTUS. The final rule changes this, and such tributaries are WOTUS if they have a surface water connection to a downstream water of the United States during a normal year. To make a long story short, the final rule protects some bodies of water that the proposed rule left out.
This is the bottom line: clean water is a basic need. With many of our towns and cities still living with unsafe drinking water, now is not the time to cut back on clean water enforcement. We need more - not less - protection for clean water. All of our waters are connected. We cannot allow pollution from mining and manufacturing and large farms into small waterways without it affecting the rest of the water we all depend on. We all know wetlands flow into streams, which flow into small rivers, into bigger rivers, and into lakes, including our Great Lakes, and ultimately the ocean. This rollback will put drinking water at risk for millions of Americans who live in the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. This rule gives polluters a free pass at the expense of millions of Americans.
Organized by a consortium of Wisconsin conservation groups, hundreds of water quality activists let the Wisconsin Legislature hear that voices by speaking directly to lawmakers, in the Capitol building itself. “Clean Water Lobby Day” was held on the afternoon of January 30 in Madison. LWV UMRR Board member Carolyn Mahlum-Jenkins was among those who got briefed in information sessions and then hit the halls of the Capitol with water conservation messages.
This was a timely event, because the Speaker's Water Task Force just released its findings and draft bills after a year of work. The Speaker's Task Force on Water Quality was created to gather information and make policy recommendations to better assess and improve the quality of both surface water and ground water in our state. Areas of study included identifying the best practices for soil mapping and data collection, determining the sources of contaminants, assessing runoff management, investigating remedies that will protect a healthy and stable supply of water, and supporting best practices for designing and constructing wells and septic systems.
This story from WSAW-TV in Wausau describes the package of bills in the Speaker's Task Force on Water Quality as including:
A bill to revise the Well Compensation Grant Program to address nitrate contamination by increasing the fund by $1 million for next fiscal year, remove the restrictions for compensation when a well is only contaminated by nitrates, and, among other things, provides the DNR with one full-time position for the grant program.
Another bill creates a pilot program to address nitrate contamination, which includes creating another grant this time for agricultural producers, including university entities, “to implement projects, for at least two growing seasons, that reduces nitrogen loading or uses nitrogen at an optimal rate while protecting water quality…”
Several other bills address farming, as it relates to water contamination, and ways to help farmers reach goals of environmentally-friendly practices. This includes a bill that is multifaceted that would provide assistance to farmers for conservation, with recommendations for grant expansions and insurance coverage.
UW-Stevens Point’s Watershed Science and Education program also was acknowledged in the package for its work in testing, mapping, and educational outreach. One bill would expand on the university’s work by providing $450,000 per year to the program, along with create a hydrogeologist position within the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, among other recommendations.
Another bill would create an office of water policy within the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey. This person would be appointed by the governor and be required to evaluate the current laws and rules, any proposals, and make recommendations about water policy, along with submit a report to the legislature every other year.
Other bills include:
- Increasing funding for county conservation staff, which Testin said he is the lead author of
- Require the DNR to have a public comment period when establishing groundwater standards
- Create a pilot program to address nitrate contamination
- Provide extra funding for the Freshwater Collaborative undergraduate program to help train the next generation of scientists and attract talent by studying the challenges of agriculture management and the challenges of water quality and safety
- Expand the PFAS program so DATCP can collect firefighting foam and either store or dispose of that foam
- Extend the Wisconsin fund for septic systems for two more years, requires the Department of Safety and Professional Services write and distribute the eligibility requirements for the grant program, and fund DSPS with two full-time project positions
- Alter the rules and application process for the wetlands and floodplain restoration grants
- Require the DNR to provide grants to local water improvement groups to conduct projects using biomanipulation or deliberately removing or adding certain fish to reduce phosphorus and nitrogen in water
- Prohibit the Sale or Use of Coal Tar-Based and PAH Sealant Products
Minnesota has started a new program to transform urban lawns into pollinator habitat . This post, from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, describes that program.
Minnesota residents can now apply for assistance to create pollinator habitat in their yards through a new Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) program. Lawns to Legumes, the Minnesota program designed to help at-risk pollinators, supports habitat projects that can encompass an entire yard.
Beginning gardeners and those with limited space can make a difference with as little as 10 square feet. Feb. 28 is the deadline to apply for up to $350 in reimbursement. But that’s just part of the program to establish native vegetation, which has garnered national attention since its development last summer. By early January, approximately 400 people had participated in free workshops and 175 participated in online webinars. More online and in-person workshops are being planned for spring.
Free online planting guides are available to anyone. An emphasis is on protecting the federally endangered rusty patched bumblebee, Minnesota’s state bee. BWSR partnered with Metro Blooms and Blue Thumb: Planting for Clean Water, a collaboration of nonprofits supporting pollinators, to launch the program open to Minnesota residents.
1) Fargo-Moorhead relies on a small buried glacial aquifer that isn’t easily recharged and doesn’t have a lot of capacity. It may limit development of the region. Moorhead also has an annual flooding problem and we will ask whether recharge can siphon off some of the flood waters.
2) The Straight River Groundwater Management area near Park Rapids. This sandy area is intensively irrigated cropland and seasonal lows in the water table aquifer have the potential to have a thermal impact on a coldwater stream. The city of Park Rapids has also had problems with nitrate in shallow groundwater. We’ll study whether water is available at the right time of year to offset drawdown and if it can dilute nitrate contamination and keep the stream cool.
3) Southern Washington County has a similar problem of aquifer depletion impacting a coldwater stream but in this case is a bedrock aquifer. Located in a growing metropolitan area, the current use may not be sustainable. The migration of 3M legacy contaminants (PFOS, PFOA) into parts of the aquifer used for a municipal supply well is a long-term problem in search of a solution. Recharging aquifers with clean water may provide relief for both of these future scenarios.
4) Greater Rochester is planning for a doubling of population due to expansion of the medical campus. Our question: Will their bedrock aquifer be adequate and remain free of contamination or will groundwater quantity and quality limit their ability to expand?
The project is now ongoing, and will give a report to the 2021 Legislature. We will follow this work in the LWV UMRR blog and report peridically on prgress.
It is important to note that even if Managed Aquifer Recharge turns out to be a promising practice, there concerns and regulatory hurdles to be surmounted if it is to go into use in Minnesota. So the research here is just one step toward a major change in water management in Minnesota.
Some resources for more information:
University of Minnesota Water Resources Center:
Freshwater Society Facets of Freshwater:
Coon Rapids is a suburban city of about 61,000 people on the Mississippi north of Minneapolis. Development here exploded in the 50's and 60's with the post-war building/baby boom. In Coon Rapids, a group of citizens have banded together to build solar energy investment across the city.
The Coon Rapids Regenerative Energy Task Force formed in 2019. Members include a state senator, a former state legislator, a city ‘council member, a Coon Rapids Sustainability commission member, a student at the Anoka Ramsey Community College and advisors from the Three Rivers Parks District and Xcel Energy. The motivation was to accelerate the process of using more sustainable energy in our city and less carbon-based energy. Lonni McCauley, a founding member of the Task Force, said, "You only have to learn of the fires in Australia, the flood in Vienna and the tornadoes and floods in the South to get realize you can’t sit still and do nothing."
This group has gotten a lot done in their six months of existence. So far, their accomplishments include:
We look forward to seeing where the next six months take this group! This project is a product of the Upper Mississippi River Region ILO which is promoting clean water and a mitigation of climate change.
Owatonna Workshop on Jan. 25 to Help Farmers/Landowners with Tools for a Wetter World
Speakers include Southeast Minnesota cover crop farmers Tom Cotter and Myron Sylling, George Boody of the Land Stewardship Project (LSP), and Adam Arndt and Kelly Burke of Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), respectively.
“This whole thing is about improving soil and cutting back on erosion,” said Randy Schroht, an Ikes member and area farmer. Speakers will address why no-till fields need cover crops to battle erosion, how to strike a better deal for conservation in rental agreements, the role of livestock, 260-bushel corn, and how soil health pays the bills.
Land Stewardship Project is a sponsor along with University of Minnesota Extension, League of Women Voters/Upper Mississippi River Region Region-Interleague Organization, and the Cannon River Watershed Partnership.
For more information on the UMRI, please see http://umrinitiative.org/about/.
Photo MPR News June 17, 2014
The League of Women Voters of Dane County (Madison, Wisconsin) is leading efforts to build understanding and momentum on climate issues. Their forum series on climate has been excellent and is very well documented on their website with videos, presentations and supplemental materials. The Climate Corner blog provides weekly posts on climate and environment topics. These short posts are well-written quick reads on questions we face in our daily lives.
The first of the planned four forums, held in September, focused on the public health impacts of climate change. Here, the program opened with a presentation on the science behind climate change by Ralph Peterson, PhD from the University of Wisconsin, followed by a discussion of LWV positions relating to climate change advocacy by Andrea Kaminsky so that LWV members would be well versed prior to digging in on the topic of the day, why Climate Change is an urgent public health issue. Dr. Claire Gervais from the UW Health Clinic gave this presentation. This excellent webpage (click here) provides videos, PowerPoints and more information, and is an excellent resource for Leagues that may be planning a a Climate Change discussion.
The second forum, on December 8, looked at the impact that local governments can have adapting to and working to combat climate change. ".... Facing our federal leadership vacuum, local governments are stepping up, and the real work is happening far away from the hype and hyperbole. Their strength lies in recognizing the economic value inherent in establishing and working within the confines of well-balanced and preserved ecosystems for flood control, energy savings, pest management and the like. " This webpage has videos and related materials for this forum.
February 4 will be the next forum in the series, Climate Change and Agriculture. Like the others, this forum will be livestreamed on Facebook Live, as well as videoed for later presentation. Here's a link to the LWV Dane County calendar page, where more information will be posted as time for the forum nears.
LWV UMRR thanks LWV Dane County for their work and leadership on this critical issue!
GLBW Founding Partners:
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