Nutrient-laden runoff from Iowa's farm fields is a major contributor to the "Dead Zone' in the Gulf of Mexico. In this discussion, David Osterberg lays out options for dealing with the problem. He makes a potent case that getting enough farmers to take voluntary measures to reduce runoff, as currently hoped for in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, is not going to work. As LWV UMRR Vice-chair Mary Ellen Miller points out in this meeting: Voluntary [change in ag practices as recommended in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy] is not working, and it's not working because too many federal dollars are going to support the current practices."
<<<<Advance video to 5:30 unless you want to see the chit chat as we all gather for the Zoom.>>>>
This discussion was part of the LWV Upper Mississippi October 12 meeting. The LWV UMRR Board meets on the first Monday of even numbered months (if you do the math, that's 6 times/year). Before Covid, we traveled around the watershed getting to know people and issues across our four-state area. At each Board meeting, we'd have an educational/advocacy session on local issues where local Leaguers and the general public joined us. Now, everything's virtual, so no travel, but we are still doing sessions like this on the first Monday of every even-numbered month. Watch our newsletter for notice of upcoming events like this talk with David Osterberg!
Looking in more detail at the full published study, the researchers found that "Overall, >80% of the Basin total runoff and N leaching was from the rising extreme precipitation areas. Basin-wide, extreme precipitation events occurred only 8.6 days year−1 (2.4% of 365 days) on average, but they contributed to approximately one-third of annual total water yields and N yields. This is likely a conservative estimate of the contribution of extreme precipitation events as we only focus on extreme precipitation days without consideration of post-event legacy effects."
This new understanding of the role of extreme precipitation can inform how changes can be made in fertilizer and manure application to reduce the loss of nutrients.
This is not an Action Alert from Leauge of Women Voters, rather we are providing information on a pending goverment action that our readers may decide to comment on, with information from other organizations. Note that the comment deadline is May 18.
A recent email from the Water Protection Network urges readers to comment on a rule being proposed by EPA. (MRN's appeal follows this paragraph, verbatim.) This rule would set standards for the types of scientific research that can be used in environmental decision making. On its face, it would make sense for EPA to define the level of research that will be used - as we are seeing now with covid research it seems that there is often incomplete, inconclusive or even conflicting conclusions that come out regularly. It's important that the research that is used in decision-making reflects the current scientific understanding on a particular topic. But if the constraints work to systematically exclude certain types of research, the quality of decision making is diminished. So, here's the call-to-action paragraph from the Mississippi River Network
"Take Action Against EPA's Secret Science Rule
At a time when the importance of sound science-based decision-making is painfully clear, the Trump administration has proposed a rule that would impose sweeping restrictions on the types of scientific studies that can inform the regulatory decision-making process. Instead of "strengthening transparency" as the proposal claims to do, it is instead designed to "keep highly respected and peer-reviewed scientific studies from informing government decisions on public health and environmental protection" (Bruce Stein, NWF).
Following the links in this paragraph leads the reader to EPA's proposal in the Federal Register and a March 23, 2020, blog post by Ann Mesnikoff of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Reading the EPA proposal it is hard to sort out what there is to be concerned about. There is a link in Ann's blog post taking the reader to Ann's December 4, 2019 post, where she provides more background on the rule. She says, "The rule requires all of the data underpinning EPA legislation to be publicly available or otherwise replicable. However, there are multiple reasons why some studies can’t be replicated or made fully available. Privacy rules and patient protections prevent individual health data from being released. Raw data or original conditions may no longer exist, such as lead exposure from leaded gasoline, which has been banned now for decades. Scientific research is built around long-term and health-based research, so there are long-established methods for evaluating in these situations. The new “transparency” rule would not lead to more transparent research; it would only bar EPA from using critical scientific information."
This action is just one of a myriad of ways that the rules protecting our air, land and water are being weakened. Sigh. Push back will be timely,.
Picture below - How institutions are approaching scientific research during Covid-19
GLBW Founding Partners:
LWV Upper Mississippi River Region owes a lot to LWV Jo Daviees County – it was this League in Galena, Illinois, that had the idea to start an Inter League Organization* focused on protecting and improving water quality in the Upper Mississippi. It was from that idea that LWV UMRR was born in 2015, and we thank them for it.
LWV JDC has moved the ball along considerably in their local water quality work now. You can read about how they got started in this blog post from August of 2017. In this post from December of 2017, we shared the good news that LWV Jo Daviess County received a $10,000 prize for their proposal in the US EPA's Nutrient Sensor Action Challenge.
They implemented the proposal, and this month learned that they won big - they were one of three projects across the US receiving a $50,000 prize for their work!
Following is the press release from US EPA. Congratulations to LWV Jo Daviess County!
CHICAGO (Aug. 21, 2019) - Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and four federal partners announced the winners of its technology-accelerating water quality challenge. The League of Women Voters of Illinois in Jo Daviess County is one of three national teams selected for the Challenge’s prize of $50,000 each. The winning teams demonstrated how data from low-cost water quality monitoring sensors can be used to inform local decision-making on nutrient management.
The Nature Conservancy's big idea to protect the upper Upper Mississippi - talk by Matt Gladue on June 1
The upper Upper Mississippi is that part of the Mississippi that starts at the Headwaters and flows to the Twin Cities. Water quality in the upper Upper Mississippi River is very good. The river, especially in the furthest north reaches, is protected by extensive forests and wetlands. But threats to this river are growing - threats from land conversion and development. The river is in danger of becoming polluted, like the Minnesota, which would endanger the water supply of millions of Minnesotans as well as damage this invaluable natural resource.
Matt Gladue's talk at the Annual Meeting engaged the audience in understanding the value of the upper Upper Mississippi - in the heart and soul of Minnesotans, as the source of drinking water for millions, and as an invaluable natural resource for wildlife and recreation. The threats to the river are many, but it is within the power of Minnesotans to make a changes that will save the river.
The Nature Conservancy has a big idea for saving the river. They have identified critical conservation lands, about 2% of the land in the watershed, that if protected from development or restored to forest will help to protect the river. Matt talked about this project, and that The Nature Conservancy is working on doing grass-roots organizing to develop public support. They are also seeking organizations to partner with them in this effort. To learn more about TNC's big idea, click here.
The videos below are broken up in part because Matt provided discussion periods during his talk and in part due to technical difficulties that resulted in small gaps.
LWV UMRR Advocacy Update - and how you can get involved in comments to the proposed Clean Water Rule
The dual mission of League of Women Voters - to educate voters and advocate on issues - is exemplified in the work of the LWV Upper Mississippi River Region. We provide information on a variety of topics in this blog, through our newsletter, and in the educational meetings we co-sponsor with local Leagues. And we advocate, through taking and advocating for positions on key issues. This post provides an update on work we are doing in three areas; the Farm Bill, the Clean Water Rule and Foxconn.
Farm Bill: The conference committee report, which reconciles the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, was released early today. The Senate has already approved it, and a vote is expected in the House tomorrow. Here's a link to a summary of the bill, from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. LWV UMRR has been participating in conference calls with this coalition, and on Dec 11 signed on to a letter to Congressional leadership urging final passage of the bill . The bill has many positive components, including continued support for income-based food support, strong and expanded conservation program funding, additional supports for dairy farmers and even a provision to ease restrictions on the growing of hemp. We will include more information on this bill in blog posts to come, so stay tuned. The full text of the bill can be read here.
Clean Water Act preservation and support: LWV US was very involved supporting the initial passage of the Clean Water Act in 1970. (Read the history of LWV Clean Water Act advocacy here.) We are continuing this work through advocacy in two areas where our current federal administration is seeking to roll back Clean Water Act protections. One rollback is the rewrite of the Clean Water Rule. This multi-part rulemaking revolves around the definition of "Waters of the US". Here is the US, EPA rulemaking page, proposed changes were just announced on December 11, and a 60-day comment period will soon begin. LWV UMRR will work with LWV US to participate in this rule making. If you are interested in learning more about this proposed rule, and helping LWV UMRR prepare comments, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will send you materials and set up a conference call to discuss possible comment areas. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The Environmental Integrity Project has issued a report on the impact of this potential rule change on Chesapeake Bay - Read more about it here.
LWV UMRR and LWV US have also signed on to a letter to EPA, urging them to maintain the existing Clean Water Act 404(c) rules. These rules have been used by environmental groups to counter environmentally damaging projects. The sign-on letter was started by the National Wildlife Federation.
Click here to read the letter. Click here to see the list of organizations that have signed on to the letter.
Foxconn: LWV Wisconsin has lead LWV efforts to oppose the withdrawal of more than 7 million gallons per day of Lake Michigan water for this new industrial development near Racine. LWV Lake Michigan is party to the Petition seeking reconsideration by WI DNR. LWV Upper Mississippi has made a resolution in opposition, and will continue to find ways to work against this transfer. You can read the resolution here.
LWV UMRR will be traveling to southeastern Wisconsin for our February Board meeting. We will seek to meet with Leagues in the area to talk about the project, get an update and see how the recent change of administration in Wisconsin may affect things. Once the plans for this meeting are set, we will share them here on our 'Upcoming Events" page. There are three previous blog posts on Foxconn:
The Cedar Rapids Gazette has dedicated resources to reporting on the progress of the twelve states that have agreed to work toward a 45% reduction in the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus discharged to the Mississippi, with a goal of reducing the 'dead zone' in the gulf.
This is an excellent series of articles, and is highly recommended to be read in their entirety.
The Gazette keeps their content behind a pay wall, however, allowing only so many 'reads' for free, and then requiring subscription at the introductory rate of $.99 for the first month. Here's a link to the articles - well worth checking into.
All that said, now here on the blog we will attempt to provide a summary - or maybe a teaser - with quotes and illustrations from the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The main article looks at what's being done and where, and how little progress is being made despite lots of sound and fury and expense. We also add here some information on what is happening in Minnesota, the headwaters state, where implementation is incremental at best, and positive results seen only on a small scale while the larger problem grows.
The article starts off with a problem statement: "A government task force said in 2008 it would cut nitrate and phosphorus pollution 45 percent by 2015 — both to help the Gulf of Mexico, where the nutrients have created a sprawling dead zone in which wildlife cannot survive — and to protect the health and safety of Midwest waters. Now 10 years later, the dead zone is growing, the 45 percent goal has been shoved back 20 years and, although millions have been spent in nearly every state along the Mississippi River, it’s not clear any progress is being made, a four-month investigation by The Gazette found."
There has been no reduction in nutrients, and the 'dead zone' continues to grow. Illustrations from the Cedar Rapids Gazette articles.
“The Gulf’s oxygen-deprived dead zone, called that because fish and other organisms must swim away or die, has an average size over the past five summers of 5,772 square miles. That’s three times larger than the task force’s goal of about 1,900 square miles. The group established the 45-percent reduction in nitrate and phosphorus running into the Mississippi because that’s what scientists think is needed to shrink the dead zone.
The task force’s 2008 Action Plan, a 64-page document that doesn’t describe enforcement options, asked each of the 12 central U.S. states to develop their own plans for reducing nutrients. The states are Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.
The Gazette reviewed all 12 state strategies, talked with dozens of state agency leaders and found the following:
In this article, Erin Jordan (author) contrasts the lack of progress in the Mississippi Basin with the work that is being done in the Chesapeake Bay, where reductions were mandatory and the water is getting cleaner. Click "Read More" below for more on Chesapeake Bay and information about voluntary and regulatory efforts to reduce nitrogen releases in Minnesota.
On December 3, 2018, LWV Upper Mississippi River Region held their bi-monthly Board meeting at the Coralville Public Library, in Johnson County, Iowa. The educational event after the Board meeting featured speakers from the Woman, Food and Agriculture Network, and the Izaak Walton League. These organizations, along with the LWV Upper Mississippi River Region, are reaching out to absentee landowners - people who rent farmland for others to farm.
Throughout the Midwest, absentee landownership of farm land is common. In some places, more than half the farmland is rented. The management of this land is critical - land owners must work with their renters to develop contracts that reward good stewardship and build soil health. How should these discussions be framed? How can the renter protect both the rented land and his bottom line? What will be the farming legacy of these rented lands?
The Izaak Walton League (aka "the Ikes") received a grant from the McKnight Foundation and is developing workshops to provide landowners with this information. The LWV UMRR is working with the Ikes in our four-state area, with a goal of finding member Leagues to work with local Ike chapters put on these workshops throughout the watershed.
The goal is to provide these landowners with tools and support to help them work with their renters to build soil health and improve the environmental performance of their farms. Here's the video from the presentation in Coralville. Our speakers, left to right, are Chris Henning from the Women Food and Agriculture Network, Mike Delaney from the Izaak Walton League and Lonni McCauley from the LWV Upper Mississippi River Region Inter League Organization.
LWV UMRR is also working with the Land Stewardship Project in Minnesota. Here, a series of three meetings will occur in January, with follow up meetings planned for February. LWV'ers will be helping with these meetings, which will be be a good way to build LWV knowledge as well.
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||