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Iowa City ranked 10th most "livable" city in U.S.

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 16, 2014 at 17:05:00 PM CDT

Iowa City ranks tenth on Livability.com's second annual list of "100 Best Places to Live" among small to mid-sized cities in the U.S. Looking at 2,000 cities with populations between 20,000 and 350,000, researchers calculated each city's "LivScore" using 40 data points falling under eight broad categories, explained in more detail here: amenities, demographics, economy, education, health care, housing, social and civic capital, and transportation. The website said of Iowa City,

Annual cultural events and a strong literary history with writers like John Irving and Flannery O'Connor have helped shape Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa. The college community offers a hardy arts and entertainment environment along with good health care for residents, highlighted by Mercy Hospital and the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

Iowa City has previously been recognized as Iowa's most walkable city.

Farther down the list of "Best Places to Live," Iowa cities mentioned were Ames at number 30, West Des Moines at number 57, Cedar Rapids at number 65, and Des Moines at number 82.

Livability.com explained the methodology underlying the list here. The website tweaked the criteria they used last year to compile the first "Best Places to Live" list:

Specifically, we wanted to add some more variables about health care; look at the role of proximity to institutions like hospitals, colleges and universities; and create a better balance between our survey questions and the topics we were measuring. We created some new variables including a measure of racial and ethnic diversity and a rather unique look at the diversity of housing stock.

Those changes allowed Iowa City to move up from number 47 last year to this year's top ten. Iowa's highest-ranking city on Livability.com's inaugural list was Cedar Rapids at number 30, followed by Ames at number 32. Des Moines was ranked number 70 and West Des Moines number 77 last year.

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Iowa could do so much better with local food availability

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 26, 2014 at 07:10:00 AM CDT

Agriculture is and always has been a major part of Iowa's economy, but given our abundance of world-class farmland, we could do much more to make local food available to Iowans. When the non-profit food advocacy group Strolling of the Heifers introduced its "Locavore Index" two years ago, Iowa ranked second only to Vermont in terms of local food availability. At that time, the index measured per-capita presence of Community-Supported Agricultural enterprises and farmers markets.

Last year, Strolling of the Heifers added a third component to the index: the per capita presence of "food hubs," those "facilities that handle the aggregation, distribution and marketing of foods from a group of farms and food producers in a region." Iowa dropped to fifth place on the Locavore Index.

For 2014, Strolling of the Heifers added a fourth component: the percentage of school districts with Farm-to-School programs, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Sadly, only 31 percent of Iowa school districts have a Farm-to-School program, putting us below many states with insignificant agricultural output compared to Iowa. We should be doing better seven years after the state legislature first funded Farm-to-School efforts. While our state is still strong in farmers markets per capita, our national rank on the Locavore Index dropped to tenth.

August and September are arguably the best months to shop at Iowa farmers markets. With peak late-summer produce being harvested around the start of the academic year, it's a shame more Iowa students don't have access to fresh, local food. We should have more flash-freezing facilities to make it easier for larger facilities to buy local as well--not just public school districts but also nursing homes, hospitals, colleges and universities. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach "provides technical assistance to school food service staff" in six northeast Iowa counties. Here's hoping that project will expand statewide.

After the jump I've posted the Strolling of the Heifers chart showing all state-level data on local food availability. I added the group's "10 reasons to consume local foods," covering economic, health, environmental, and taste benefits. Iowa's Healthiest State Initiative doesn't include a strong local food component, although it promotes healthier eating at schools. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship administers a few Farm-to-School programs and has provided grants for a few dozen schools to start vegetable gardens each year.

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IA-Gov: First Branstad-Hatch debate discussion thread (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 16:08:26 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad and State Senator Jack Hatch are debating this afternoon at the Iowa State Fair. Iowa Public Television is live-streaming the event and will replay the debate at 7 pm tonight. Share any comments about the governor's race in this thread. I will be updating with my thoughts after the jump.

Branstad has agreed to two other debates with Hatch, but his team are refusing to allow Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to debate Hatch's running mate, Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon. It's a strange stance for a guy who is determined to make Reynolds the next governor.

UPDATE: My live-blog is after the jump. I will add more links and discussion later. If you missed the debate, you can watch at 7 pm on Iowa Public Television. They may also keep the video up on the IPTV website. SECOND UPDATE: The full debate transcript is now available here.

THIRD UPDATE: Mike Glover saw this debate as a sign Iowa "will actually have a governor's race this year." Click through to read the whole piece; I've posted excerpts below, after the liveblog.

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Terry Branstad's misguided view of fighting for Iowa agriculture

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 12, 2014 at 10:09:07 AM CDT

Speaking to a small crowd at the Iowa State Fair yesterday, Governor Terry Branstad said he was "proud as governor to have stood up for and fought for the interests of agriculture." You can watch the video on the Des Moines Register's website and read highlights in O.Kay Henderson's report for Radio Iowa or Jason Noble's summary for the Register:

He described his defense of Beef Products Inc. and its lean finely textured beef against charges that it was unhealthy "pink slime"; his support for wind energy; his efforts to maintain the current renewable fuel standard for ethanol content in gasoline; and his opposition to California chicken cage standards that could harm Iowa egg producers.

Branstad certainly was a vocal advocate for "pink slime," even depicting the product as some kind of superior health food. He's eager to defend one company's use of methods many consumers find repulsive, but I doubt the Terrace Hill chef is serving him many meals containing lean finely-textured beef.

Renewable energy advocates in Iowa would not characterize Branstad as a champion for wind. I've never heard of him lifting a finger to support "distributed generation" policies, which would benefit a much broader group of farmers and landowners than the large wind farms now dotting rural Iowa.

True, the governor has argued strenuously for maintaining the Renewable Fuels Standard, contradicting his usual stance against "big government regulations" and federal mandates. However, it's debatable whether the RFS is as important to Iowa's economy as some interest groups claim.

Branstad can pander all he wants about "the State of California with its wacky ideas," but the lawsuit he joined on behalf of Iowa is lacking in logic and unlikely to overturn California's egg law. It's also ironic that a governor who claims to oppose "activist judges" is pinning his hopes on them in this case and in another lawsuit challenging a different California law.

Meanwhile, Branstad has either done nothing or actively impeded solutions on several issues that pose an enormous threat to Iowa agriculture. We're losing world-class topsoil at an alarming rate, diminishing the future productivity of our land. Yet Branstad vetoed millions of dollars this year for Iowa watershed and land stewardship projects. Nor has he ever proposed funding the Natural Resources Trust Fund, which Iowa voters approved four years ago.

"Superweeds" resistant to the most prevalent herbicides are spreading across Iowa. Branstad has never advocated for or promoted more sustainable farming methods, which could address the weed problem more effectively than dumping more toxic chemicals on the land. Incidentally, Big Ag's preferred approach to battling superweeds could could put a lot of Iowa vineyards and fruit growers out of business--never mind the potential risks to human health.

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Weekend open thread: Walking the talk edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jul 20, 2014 at 08:01:34 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

State Representative Chuck Isenhart, the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee, has installed solar panels on his Dubuque home as a personal step to address climate change. Details are after the jump. Solar power has a reputation for being expensive to install, but technological advances and policy changes have reduced the payback time for many home and business owners. Isenhart expects to save money in the long-term. A bill approved during this year's legislative session improved Iowa's tax incentives for solar in several ways.

The Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, begins its northern route in Rock Valley today. Good luck to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community planning to do all or part of RAGBRAI. Last week's weather would have been absolutely perfect; I hope the high temperatures will mostly stay below 90 this week. In its recent feature on "33 useful tips for newbies" to the experience, I found it strange that the Register focused so much on the drinking culture. Carl Voss, a Des Moines bicycling advocate and veteran of 36 RAGBRAIs, unloaded on what he called "sophomoric drivel" in an angry letter to the editor. Excerpt:

Granted, alcohol attracts some riders and non-riders among the more than 10,000 RAGBRAI participants. It happens. But trust me, that isn't the way most participants enjoy RAGBRAI, Iowa and our communities.

Now, flip to the RAGBRAI website, where RAGBRAI (and therefore the Register) includes among the "Top 10 Recommendations for Rider Safety": Do NOT drink alcohol and ride. [...]

Publishing crap like this in your news columns will turn me off to RAGBRAI and the Register.

Another letter to the editor, which I've posted after the jump, focused on the large number of puppy mills near this year's RAGBRAI route. The Iowa legislature passed a bill in 2010 that was designed to reduce abuses at puppy mills, but unfortunately Iowa still has some bad actors in the industry. Adopting a pet from a shelter such as the Animal Rescue League has so many advantages. If your heart is set on a purebred animal, at least visit the breeder's facility before buying a pet.

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Iowa Supreme Court rejects Farm Bureau's effort to nullify clean water rules (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 18:08:12 PM CDT

In a 4-3 split decision, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed today a Polk County District Court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit seeking to nullify new state water quality rules.

The environmental community and groups representing big agribusiness have closely watched this case for years, because the "antidegradation" rules are an important step toward bringing Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. Had this lawsuit succeeded, no strong water quality rules would have seen the light of day for the forseeable future in Iowa, because Governor Terry Branstad has packed the State Environmental Protection Commission with advocates for agribusiness.

Follow me after the jump for more background on the case and details about today's decision.

UPDATE: Added reaction from the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Environmental Council below. If there's a more hypocritical statewide organization than the Farm Bureau, I can't think what it could be.

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Time for Tom Vilsack to show leadership on weed control

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 02, 2014 at 11:57:01 AM CDT

Commenting on the latest evidence of herbicide-resistant "superweeds" spreading in Iowa, Drake Law Professor Neil Hamilton argued in an editorial this week that we must not embrace "solutions" offered by biotech companies that "will simply repeat our mistakes."

Hamilton's appeal was not addressed to any specific person. Yet one Iowan is uniquely positioned to heed his warning: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. As the USDA considers the biotech industry's "next silver bullet solution" for herbicide-resistant weeds, Vilsack should think hard about the risks, "rather than just believing people who have some shiny new product to sell," in Hamilton's words. Vilsack's record raises doubts about whether he is up to this task.

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No one could have predicted... "Superweed" edition

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 23, 2014 at 06:45:00 AM CDT

Sunday's Des Moines Register carried the latest journalistic exploration of herbicide-resistant "superweeds" on Iowa farmland. The story's not new: agronomists at Iowa State University anticipated this problem and have been warning farmers for at least 15 years. Various published studies have shown the connection between widespread corn and soybean farming practices and the "rapid selection of 21 species of glyphosate-resistant weeds."

Industry groups representing conventional growers have repeatedly accused advocates for clean water and sustainable farming of threatening rural Iowans' way of life. Yet the dominant practices of corn and soybeans growers have accelerated the spread of resistant weeds through natural selection, potentially putting many Iowa farmers out of business in the coming years.

After the jump I've posted excerpts from Donelle Eller's story for the Sunday Register and more background on the herbicide-resistant weed problem. The 2013 Union of Concerned Scientists briefing paper on "The Rise of Superweeds-and What to Do About It" is an excellent starting point.

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A Little Vietnam in Dallas County

by: CompassPlant

Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 22:47:55 PM CDT

(Terrifying comment on the lack of basic safety awareness among some Iowa gun enthusiasts. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Yesterday I conducted a wetlands delineation for the Iowa DNR at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Area, along the South Raccoon between Adel and Redfield. Among the highlights: a good plant list that included a new sedge species, Carex oligocarpa; numerous butterflies, including Tiger and Black Swallowtails, American Lady, Spring Azure, Eastern Comma, and Red Admiral; experience with riparian soils; and overall a good day.

The most memorable part came in the last 15 minutes. Four 20-something year-olds noisily stopped about 450 feet away on the old canoe access road and began making sounds that could have been firecrackers. When the first clear rifle report came, I knew that this was no mere Independence Day warm-up. At least two bullets hit within 100 yards of me and a third whizzed overhead as I crouched behind a low dirt pile.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa Democratic Party convention edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 15:34:00 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? The Iowa Democratic Party's state convention got overshadowed by the circus-like spectacle Republicans put on in Urbandale yesterday. We're talking about David Young's surprising nomination in IA-03 here. This is an open thread for all other topics.

After the jump I've posted several links about the Democratic convention and the full text (as prepared) of Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's speech. He seems to have made a good impression, as he did at the Harkin Steak Fry in 2012. O'Malley won't challenge Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination; he was loyal Clinton surrogate during the 2008 primaries, even after Barack Obama crushed her in his state. If Clinton decides against running for president again, O'Malley could have a lot of upside potential in Iowa. He's much more familiar with this state than your average east-coast governor, having worked as a field organizer for Gary Hart's 1984 Iowa caucus campaign. John Deeth wrote up O'Malley's appearance for gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch and running mate Monica Vernon in Iowa City.

UPDATE: Added below a short version of what would be the progressive case against O'Malley if he competes in the Iowa caucuses.

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Muscatine residents will get day in court against major air polluter

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 12:33:08 PM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Friday that a District Court should hear a lawsuit eight Muscatine residents have filed against the Grain Processing Corporation. Muscatine locals have long had to breathe some of Iowa's dirtiest air, and the Grain Processing Corporation has long been one of the area's major polluters. Despite being forced to pay a $538,000 civil penalty for air pollution violations eight years ago, the corporation continued to emit excessive amounts, leading to a lawsuit by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller in 2011. Earlier this year, the company settled that lawsuit, agreeing to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty and to take several steps to reduce toxic emissions from the facility.

But the Grain Processing Corporation stood and fought when local residents filed a class-action lawsuit two years ago, citing health risks as well as damage to personal property related to the air pollution near the plant.

In 2013, a District Court judge granted the defendant's motion to dismiss the case, prompting plaintiffs to appeal. The Iowa Supreme Court found that the Grain Processing Corporation "was not entitled to summary judgment" and sent the case back to District Court, which will consider the lawsuit on its merits. You can read the full text of Justice Brent Appel's ruling here (pdf). (It's more than 60 pages long and gets into some technical legal issues.) All the other Iowa Superme Court justices concurred, except for Justice Edward Mansfield, who recused himself because some of his former law partners were representing the corporation.

After the jump I've posted more background on the lawsuit and excerpts from Jason Liegois' report for the Muscatine Journal on the Iowa Supreme Court ruling. The plaintiffs are not guaranteed to succeed in District Court, but at least they can present their case. In addition to fighting the lawsuit at the lower court level in Iowa, the Grain Processing Corporation could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the federal Clean Air Act preempts claims like the ones the Muscatine residents are making.

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Four comments and a question about the IA-01 Democratic primary results

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 10, 2014 at 12:33:17 PM CDT

Past time for a post-mortem on the five-way Democratic primary in the open first Congressional district. Here are the unofficial results from June 3:

IA-01 Democratic primary results photo Screenshot2014-06-10at95141AM_zps4ce44fc8.png

A few thoughts struck me as I reflected on this campaign and looked more closely at the results.  

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Branstad slashes conservation and clean water funding

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 07:10:00 AM CDT

It's one of the oldest tricks in any governor's playbook: schedule media events for bill signing ceremonies you want the public to hear about, while burying bad news late on a Friday, after reporters have filed their stories. I was worried Governor Terry Branstad would make big cuts to environmental funding just before Memorial Day weekend, as he had cut food bank money two years ago.

Instead, Branstad's office released the news about this year's spending vetoes after dinnertime on Friday, May 30. Hours earlier, the governor had welcomed reporters, lawmakers, and members of the public to watch him sign a bill legalizing the possession of cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders, as well as a bill altering Iowa's HIV transmission law.

Follow me after the jump for the gory details. I no longer consider 2014 a good year for Iowa environmental funding.

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Still time to help preserve Iowa topsoil, reduce flooding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 27, 2014 at 09:10:00 AM CDT

Comments to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are still needed in support of a 2012 rule that requires developers and home builders to leave four inches of topsoil on the ground after construction. Bleeding Heartland discussed this issue last week, and Todd Dorman wrote a more detailed background piece for the Cedar Rapids Gazette earlier this month. I've posted excerpts from that article below.

Iowa has lost too much of its world-class topsoil already. Not only does this non-renewable resource help plants grow, it reduces stormwater runoff that can cause flooding and water pollution. As Dorman points out, homeowners would also benefit from having more topsoil on their lots, so they could grow grass or other plants without having to inundate hard clay subsoil with chemicals. Representatives of business groups that oppose the DNR rule have estimated its cost at between $1,200 per residential to $2,500 or even $5,000. I haven't seen any estimate of the hidden costs of more flooding and excess nutrients in waterways. Although farms contribute more to Iowa topsoil runoff than new residential construction does, we all have to do our part.

A public hearing on the soil conservation rule is happening this Thursday, May 29, in Des Moines; click through for details on how to participate in person or by phone. Public comments can be sent via e-mail to Adam.Schnieders AT dnr.iowa.gov, ideally before Thursday's meeting.  

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Branstad will sign cannabis oil, e-cigarette bills; undecided on dog racing

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 23, 2014 at 14:05:00 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad plans to sign a bill that would allow possession of cannabis oil for the treatment of some seizure disorders, he announced while taping Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program today. He noted the bill will help some children with epilepsy, and he's satisfied its "limited" scope will not increase abuse of marijuana in smokeable form.  

The governor also said he will sign a bill banning the sale of e-cigarettes to children, adding that his wife is a "militant" anti-smoker. Trouble is, that bill was backed by tobacco industry lobbyists. Many public health groups lobbied against the bill.

Branstad has not decided whether to sign the dog racing bill, which would end greyhound racing at one casino in Council Bluffs and get a non-profit casino in Dubuque off the hook for subsidizing the races. His concern isn't the massive giveaway to dog breeders and kennel owners, which makes no sense to me. Rather, he is worried that lobbyists for horse racing interests didn't get their cut from the bailout. O.Kay Henderson reports for Radio Iowa,

"I understand the benefits that the people in Council Bluffs and Dubuque see from this, and the greyhound industry," Branstad says. "My concern is the horse industry was left out of this." [...]

However, the governor's concern is over provisions in the bill that would give the greyhound industry authority to strike deals to simulcast dog and horse races at any of the state's casinos and get all of the profit from it. Today simulcasting deals are only allowed at the casinos in Altoona, Council Bluffs and Dubuque and Iowa's horse industry gets the financial take.

"There is some concern that I'm hearing from my friends in the horse industry. I've always been close with them," Branstad says. "We have a very big and significant horse industry in the state of Iowa."

Branstad has 'til June 2 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill.

"I'm trying to weigh all those things," Branstad says. "I want to do something that's fair to all the communities involved and fair to all the parties and the one group that seems to be, because of the simulcasting provisions of that bill, having some concerns is the horse industry and so I'm carefully reviewing that," Branstad says. "I have not made a final decision."

Environmental activists in Iowa are nervously awaiting the governor's decision on a bill to expand solar tax credits and several spending bills that include record-high funding for the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) conservation program. The governor recently said he is concerned about various parts of a supplemental spending bill that contained $5 million of the REAP funding. In 2012, Branstad line-item vetoed half a million dollars for Iowa food banks on the Friday before Memorial Day.

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One easy way to help protect Iowa soil and clean water

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 21, 2014 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

In August 2012, Governor Terry Branstad issued an executive order creating a mechanism for "stakeholder groups" to block potentially "burdensome" administrative rules proposed by state agencies. Those groups include representatives of businesses that would be affected by any new regulation. One of those stakeholder groups is meeting next week to discuss the fate of a rule the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has advanced in order to reduce soil runoff and storm water discharge associated with construction activities.

You can view the rule here (pdf). The main point is to require developers and home builders to leave four inches of topsoil on the ground after construction, so that yards will be able to absorb more of the expected rainfall. Some business interests oppose the rule because it will add costs to construction. But they are not considering the hidden costs of runoff (increased water pollution and a loss of irreplaceable topsoil). State government needs to act in the public interest and not only consider the bottom line of a few companies.

An action alert I've posted after the jump provides more background and details. Lucy Hershberger, an Iowa City-based landscaper who serves on the stakeholder group, wrote it and gave me permission to publish here. The Iowa DNR is accepting public comments on this issue via e-mail: Adam.Schnieders AT dnr.iowa.gov. It would be better to submit those comments before the public hearing scheduled for May 29. People can also attend that hearing, either in person or by telephone (instructions for calling in are below).  

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Iowa legislature not serious yet about preserving soil and clean water

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 07, 2014 at 08:16:45 AM CDT

The Iowa House and Senate wrapped up the 2014 session during "Soil and Water Conservation Week." While certain environmental programs did well in the budget for fiscal year 2015, the legislature did not adequately address some of the biggest problems affecting Iowa's soil and water.

The Iowa Environmental Council blog linked to several recent articles by "top experts on Iowa soil conservation," who "expressed alarm about the state of our soil" and in particular the rapid rate of erosion. Along with other kinds of agricultural runoff, soil erosion contributes to toxic algae blooms in rivers and lakes, not only in Iowa and neighboring states but also across much of the U.S. Nutrient pollution is a major reason that more than half of the country's rivers and streams are "in poor condition for aquatic life."At the end of this post, I've enclosed an infographic explaining how toxic algae blooms form and how to prevent them.

Iowa lawmakers continue to throw money at the state's Nutrient Reduction Strategy, without insisting on numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorous levels in water and without the goals, timelines and monitoring needed to assure Iowans that waterways are becoming cleaner. In fact, the fiscal year 2015 appropriation for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship removed wording requiring that money for watershed projects be used to reduce nutrients. Follow me after the jump for the disturbing details.

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2014: A good legislative session for Iowa environmental funding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 06, 2014 at 06:45:00 AM CDT

During the legislative session that just ended, the Iowa House and Senate approved substantial increases in funding for some key environmental programs.

Lawmakers committed to providing $25 million to mark the 25th anniversary of the Department of Natural Resources' Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP) achieved their goal. REAP had only been funded at the $20 million level once before during the past two and a half decades. The REAP money came from three separate bills appropriating funds for the 2015 fiscal year; I've posted details after the jump. Many REAP-funded projects have a lasting positive impact on local communities for decades. Click here for more background on the kind of projects REAP has supported around Iowa.

Last month, Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson posted a guest diary warning about legislative proposals that would indirectly undermine REAP by changing the program's funding formula. Fortunately, the conference committee agreement negotiated by Iowa House and Senate members did not include that language in the final bill.

Senate File 2349 allocates Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund money, which mostly comes from gambling revenues. That bill included $9.6 million for lake restoration funding during the 2015 fiscal year, a big improvement on the recent past when lawmakers approved just $5.5 million for lake restoration projects. The Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund bill also included $2 million "for the administration of a water trails and lowhead dam public hazard statewide plan." Just a few years ago, environmental groups including Iowa Rivers Revival were fighting for even $1 million in state funding for rivers. The only downside to the river funding was that the conference committee went with House-approved language allocating the whole $2 million to low-head dam removal and water trails. Iowa Rivers Revival preferred the Senate-passed bill, which contained $1 million for that purpose and $1 million to launch a new Iowa River Restoration Program. You can find the Senate-passed version of Senate File 2349 here and the conference committee report describing agreed changes in detail here (the river funding is discussed on pages 4-5 of the Senate bill).

Governor Terry Branstad hasn't signed any of these appropriations bills yet, so funding for REAP and Iowa lakes are rivers is not a sure thing. I would be surprised if he item-vetoed any of these appropriations, although in 2011, Branstad vetoed river restoration funds that lawmakers had allocated for fiscal year 2012.

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Don't RAPE REAP

by: Supervisor Brent Oleson

Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 18:12:24 PM CDT

(The author has been a Linn County Supervisor since 2009 and previously worked with the Iowa Senate Minority leader. Bleeding Heartland discussed the bipartisan effort to increase REAP funding to $25 million here. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

I'm gonna go on a rant...about an attempted RAPE.

Yes, I mean every word and hyperbole I'm uttering on this post. REAP (Resource Enhancement & Protection) is being RAPED! For Agriculture...by agri-business...to correct it's mistakes in a supposedly free and private market of farming. How is this rape of taxpayer funds and DNR license plate fees occurring and for what specifically? Read on My friends. 

The Iowa House of Representatives wants to put REAP dollars toward... agri-terrace projects, forestry management (subject to logging), and water nutrient pollution clean-up programs because farmland soil is laden with fertilizer chemicals. These are all worthy issues to be addressed on their own I say, and should indeed be addressed and monies put toward mitigation efforts. The Iowa Dept. Of Ag has jurisdiction on all these problems, and they should since their policies and practices created them in the first place.

This isn't an indictment of farmers, because most are great conservationists of their own free will as it's good business and good citizenship. I commend those Iowa farmers, especially my Linn County ones, who work hard to be responsible neighbors, citizens and conservationists...voluntarily I might add! But I don't give a pass to bad apples, policy-makers, or special interest Ag industry lobbyists.

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"Edible forest" coming to Iowa City

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 02, 2014 at 07:26:00 AM CDT

An incredible project will take shape soon in Iowa City:

A food forest is a gardening technique or land management system, which emulates a woodland ecosystem using edible trees, shrubs, and herbs. Fruit and nut trees make up the upper level, while berry shrubs, edible perennials, and annuals make up the lower levels. The Wetherby Park Edible Forest will combine aspects of native habitat rehabilitation with edible forest gardening.

Food in the Wetherby Food Forest:

Trees: apple, pear, plum, cherry, mulberry
Shrubs: hazelnut, serviceberry, aronia berry, beach plum, gooseberry, currant, honeyberry
Herbs: strawberry, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, chives, sorrel, lovage

The non-profit group Backyard Abundance is organizing a volunteer day on April 12 to prepare and mulch the future orchard site. Planting will begin in 2015. Backyard Abundance posted detailed design plans and plant lists here (pdf). Iowa City Parks and Recreation is partnering with Backyard Abundance on the edible forest, having previously worked with the group and other volunteers to establish an edible maze in the same park.

After the jump I've enclosed more about the new project, which aims to improve public health while using land sustainably and reducing the area's carbon footprint.

For Iowans who would like to create similar projects in their communities, I highly recommend Darrin Nordahl's book Public Produce. Nordahl formerly worked for the City of Davenport, where he promoted growing food in public spaces. The Cultivate Hope farm and urban agriculture education center in downtown Cedar Rapids would be a great source of advice and inspiration as well.

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