Dr. Chris Jones is a Research Engineer and Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Iowa, IIHR. In addition to all his professorial duties, Dr. Jones posts a blog on water quality conundrums in Iowa, based on his research. His blog, while witty and fact-based, is blunt about Iowa's water quality problems and the role of agriculture in these problems. Here's how Dr. Jones describes his blog:
"Water quality is a difficult issue for Iowans. How do we balance the needs of an agricultural economy with the desire for clean water and a healthy environment? Better information is without a doubt the best place to start. I plan to explore the scientific nuances of Iowa's quest for better water quality, with a focus on how we can work together to make progress."
Case in point: Dr. Jones' June 9 2021 post, Ifyoucantbeatemjoinemitis. Here, Jones starts off with a quote from Pope John Paul II, “The dramatic threat of ecological breakdown is teaching us the extent to which greed and selfishness, both individual and collective, are contrary to the order of creation.”
Jones then takes a pointed look at the political causes of the elevated nitrate levels that are plaguing the water supply of the largest city in Iowa Des Moines. He also lays outs at what will be needed to fix these problems... and it's not the small fixes that are being funded in the watershed and receiving a lot of attention in the press. It will take major, sustained change.
Another of Jones' posts, Environmental Injustice, identifies the social injustice that results from the nitrate pollution in the Des Moines River. As we've documented in this blog previously (check out these three UMRR blog posts*) the Des Moines Waterworks sued three upstream counties on the Raccoon River to recoup the cost of treating nitrate pollution resulting from livestock and row crop agriculture. The suit was dismissed, leaving the Des Moines Waterworks to foot the bill for advanced treatment needed to remove nitrates to safe levels or find cleaner sources of water, Other downstream cities did not have the resources to do this. Click here to read a previous LWV UMRR Blog Post on Chris Jones' blog.
*Three UMRR blog posts on Des Moines lawsuit:
How two savvy conservationists empower working farm landowners to put their inner land ethic to work in consort with their tenants
Next Tuesday, June 1 the Izaak Walton League's web program, Heartland Heroines, will focus on work with non-operating farm land owners with guest presenters Robin Moore (Land Stewardship Project) and Denise O’Brien (farmer and co-founder, Women, Food, and Agriculture Network). Please register in advance for the link to join.
“Heartland Heroines” Tuesday, June 1st @ 7 pm Central Time This presentation is in the “Thinking Like a Watershed” series of monthly presentations by the Izaak Walton League's Upper Mississippi River Initiative.
How two savvy conservationists empower working farm landowners to put their inner land ethic to work in consort with their tenants: Robin Moore leads LSP’s statewide efforts to help non-farming landowners define their goals and then equitably insert conservation practices into their rental agreements. Denise O'Brien is one of the founding mothers of WFAN and continues her contributions with her family’s organic farm at Rolling Acres Farm in Atlantic, Iowa.
There will be time for facilitated questions and discussion. Organizers seek to offer examples of real watershed issues in the context of working solutions, complete with bumps in the road and inspiration for improving our communities.
The monthly presentations take place the first Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. They are organized by Christine Curry of the Izaak Walton League/ Upper Mississippi River Initiative, and co-hosted by Zach Moss of Save Our Streams, Panora Conservation Chapter member Chris Henning, and Des Moines Chapter Communication Director Bud Hartley.
What is sustainability? What is our responsibility to our natural waters? How is restoration different from reclamation? These are questions that are extensively explored in the book "Braiding Sweetgrass" by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer. For a limited time, until June 11, a talk by Dr. Kimmerer will be available for viewing on the Wege Foundation's webpage: https://wegespeakerseries.com/ it's a great introduction to Dr. Kimmerer's book, which is highly-recommended environmental reading. In this talk, she is speaking generally about her work but also specifically about work now ongoing to restore the Grand River in Michigan. Read more here.
Dr. Kimmerer is a mother, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and a professor of botany at the State University of New York. She has spoken extensively on the relationship between people and the land - read more about Dr. Kimmerer and her work here: https://www.esf.edu/faculty/kimmerer/
How will Line 3 Impact Minnesota?
Kay Slama, Willmar Area Climate Action Group
Line 3, the Canadian company Enbridge’s new oil pipeline, will carry tar sands oil across Minnesota to reach refineries in other states. It has been promoted as a big energy source and job creator for Minnesota. However, those claims are disputable, and the pipeline will negatively impact Minnesotans in a number of ways.
Will Line 3 give Minnesotans more energy? No, it runs across the state to transport oil elsewhere. Will it employ Minnesotans? Only about 1,500 workers will be hired locally for a few months of construction; then those jobs will disappear. Up to 3000 additional temporary jobs will bring in workers who create “man camps” that have been shown to increase drug use, sex trafficking, and violence. Clean energy already employs many more people than fossil fuels do, and Minnesota can become a leader in clean energy production. Here's a link to a May 29 article on the HealingMN blog with more information on jobs impacts in Minnesota.
The modest gains in taxes and temporary jobs are substantially offset by the environmental harm of the pipeline. More than 1,650 individual leaks have occurred in the U.S. since 2010, spilling more than 11.5 million gallons of oil, and Enbridge has one of the worst safety records of major pipeline companies.
Spills hurt local economies, public health, and soils and waters. Tar sands oil, with all the added chemicals necessary to make it flow, creates spills that are even worse than other pipeline spills. The oil sinks instead of floating, so scraping to collect it not only leaves much of the spilled material in place, but also kills vegetation, destroys riverbeds and lake bottoms, and decimates the fish and birds that use the water. Line 3 will cross more than 200 bodies of water, including the Mississippi and Great Lakes watersheds. Northern Minnesota depends on its waters for drinking, crops, and its $12.5 billion tourism economy.
The waters endangered by Line 3 include tribal wild rice waters, one of the few remaining rights left to the Ojibwe after treaties took nearly all their land. Wild rice is important to their food and economy, and it is easily killed by pollution of its water. Native fisheries are also threatened, as well as their historic and cultural sites.
Minnesotans will feel the negative effects of pollution, no matter where the oil is burned. Tar sands oil is among the worst fossil fuels on the planet, in terms of the amount of energy it produces compared to the amount of carbon dioxide it emits into our atmosphere. Greater amounts of carbon in our atmosphere are causing increasingly disastrous flooding, droughts, storms, temperature extremes, wildfires, glacier melt, and ocean rise. Climate change is contributing to species extinction and epidemics. MN Dept. of Commerce Commissioner Bill Grant testified that Line 3 would result in a 30-year cost to society of $287 billion, and that is without including effects of spills.
Line 3 will double the oil carried by the old pipeline, carrying the equivalent of 50 coal plants worth of polluting fuel. This will outbalance the efforts Minnesotans are making to become a clean-energy state. Minnesota power companies are rapidly switching to renewable sources of power, which are becoming less expensive than fossil fuels. They are learning to build battery storage that will get us through storms. The need for fossil fuels—especially ones that pollute as much as tar sands oil—is dropping rapidly, but the infrastructure and impact of this pipeline will last for many decades.
A number of action groups (Stop Line 3, Honor the Earth, Sierra Club, MN350, and MN Interfaith Power and Light, among others) are actively protesting to stop the construction that has begun on Line 3. They are pressuring Federal regulators, as well as the banks that are financing Enbridge, to oppose Line 3 construction. Their efforts are evidence that many Minnesotans do not want to accept the substantial amounts of pollution (both guaranteed air pollution and the risk of spills) for what they see as little benefit from the new Line 3 pipeline. They want to lower carbon’s climate change burden on the next generations, not increase it. They believe that the pipeline threatens our air, our water, and indigenous rights, and we should instead build reliable, sustainable sources of energy.
The Willmar Area Climate Action Group seeks to take immediate local action to address the urgent issue of climate change and empower our community to support broad-scale solutions. To join, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fishers and Farmers' outreach work is helping people connect in their local watersheds around the water they share. F&F programs Online and On-Air are must-see's - click the picture below and take a look at their resources.
You can learn about upcoming radio programs (like the May 15 broadcast of Neighbor to Neighbor with Pam Jahnke, which will focus on the Cedar River and Black Hawk Creek watersheds) and live conversations (like Boots on the Ground, an upcoming interactive conversation on May 20 focused on the Polk County, Iowa, Soil and Water Conservation District), as well as find recordings of past sessions that take you all around the Upper Mississippi.
Fishers and Farmers' website has many excellent resources - take a look today! Thanks to F&F for their work to bring people together and improve soil health and water quality in the Upper Mississippi Basin!
LWV UMRR Annual Meeting - The Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative
The Mississippi River is an enduring and defining feature of North America – and a vital source of jobs, recreation, and drinking water. Congresswoman Betty McCollum has included a new initiative - the Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative.
The MRRRI provision in Rep. McCollum's FY 21 Interior bill directs EPA to develop a strategy with federal, tribal, state and local entities to improve water quality, resilience to natural disasters, native ecosystems, and more – restoring the vitality of The Great River for generations to come. The LWV UMRR Annual Meeting will feature remarks by Representative McCollum and lots of information on how nonprofits like LWV can help to get this initiative passed and implemented. We will also share information on a similar program - the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative - and how it has helped to clean up long-time pollution problems.
The video from this meeting is on the "Annual Meeting- May 22, 2021" page. The session will be recorded and the link shared on this blog post after the meeting.
Human activities have fundamentally altered our landscape, and the outcome has been degradation of the earth's natural processes and cycles. Conservation practices are used to restore the natural hydrology and ecosystems in a patchwork of promise across the landscape. Can these conservation practices also help to capture carbon in the atmosphere, reducing greenhouse gases and helping to combat climate change?
The answer is all too familiar - it depends. Practices like turning marginal cropland into restored wetlands does increase the permanent land cover and can encourage the growth of woody plants, but wetlands also emit methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This 2019 report by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources finds "... Drainage of wetlands and conversion to cropland can release significant amounts of long-stored carbon through organic matter decomposition. However, wetlands also emit methane, making it difficult to assess their role relative to GHG emissions. Methane emissions are highest in wetlands that are permanently or frequently inundated, while less frequently inundated wetland types such as wet meadows appear to sequester more GHGs (green house gases) than they emit. "
Similarly, the role of other conservation measures - for example cover crops - has to be carefully considered before values for carbon capture are assigned. This UMRR blog post from December, 2020, outlines a growing experiment in development of a carbon market in Minnesota. Now, the budget proposed by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz for the Board of Water and Soil Resources includes funding for expansion of carbon markets in Minnesota - see page 46 here.
Let's be clear here. Conservation practices are a good thing. LWV UMRR strongly agrees that cover crops and reduced tillage are vital climate adaptation and resilience measures, providing undeniable benefits to soil health and farm resilience. Improved soil health, keeping water on the land, and restoring habitat will have benefits broadly, including making our landscapes more resilient to the added stresses of our changing climate. Our concern is that cover crops and no-till may play a minimal role in sequestering carbon. LWV UMRR is joining with other environmental organizations in Minnesota in requesting that more consideration be given to scientific data on carbon capture before the state more strongly commits to including cover crops and no-till as eligible practices in a carbon market.
Watch the LWV UMRR Blog for continued reporting on this issue.
US Army Corps of Engineers seeking comments on the Water Resources Development Act - public meetings in March, comment period ends May 7
The Water Protection Network has shared upcoming opportunities for organizations to provide input to the Army Corps of Engineers on developing implementation guidance for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020, the bill that authorizes projects and policy changes for the Corps. The Corps issued this notice, published today in the Federal Register, opening a 60-day public comment period (May 7, 2021 deadline) and announcing a series of virtual stakeholder sessions (listed below) for the public to provide input and recommendations to the Assistant Secretary of the Army-Civil Works on any provisions of WRDA 2020.
This Act includes provisions that recognize the role of climate change in water management. There are some provisions that could be seen to be positive, and some that are more troubling. You can read a summary of the bill at this link, and we've also included it at the end of this post.
Click here for a summary, from the National Wildlife Federation, of key provisions of WRDA 2020 that they have identified to benefit the environment, underserved communities, and Tribes; that are particularly harmful to the environment; and that advance restoration of important ecosystems.
LWV UMRR urges people interested in the river to take time to dig into the Corps' plans for implementing the WRDA and raise concerns where appropriate. Here's the information on public comment - note that these meetings start next week! Sitting in on one of these virtual meetings would be a good way to get an overview of the issues at stake; final date for submitting comments is May 7.
The Illinois Tollway stretches 294 miles (473 km) of tollways in 12 counties in Northern Illinois. This highway system includes these tollways:
In his March 1, 2021 post, Jones compiled data from the monitoring of Iowa watersheds since 2003. His post documents his data sources and explains his methodology. The graph above shows the amount of nitrogen being discharged from Iowa on the major rivers. The green line is the rivers discharging to the Missouri River, and the blue line is the rivers going directly to the Upper Mississippi. The red line is the total discharge. Jones' data shows that the total nitrogen discharge has doubled since 2003.
In 2019, Jones wrote a post that compared the impact of the population of livestock to the human population of major cities. Our speaker at the UMRR session, David Osterberg, quoted Chris Jones as he talked about the need for a stronger approach to nutrient management. You can watch the video of Osterberg's talk via the link in this UMRR Blog post. Chris Jones' blog post that Osterberg quoted is found at this link.
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||