Thoughts on Iowa's water supply, ag runoff

John Norwood is a Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette held an hour-long water quality panel last week as part of their ongoing Iowa Ideas series. Gazette columnist Todd Dorman moderated the panel, which included University of Iowa Research Engineer Chris Jones, Iowa Environmental Council staff attorney Michael Schmidt, and myself, a Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner elected in 2018.

We spoke about Iowa’s water quality challenges within the context of operating one of the world’s most productive agricultural systems, including 23 million acres of corn and soybean row crops. Dorman summarized highlights from the discussion, and the full replay is available on YouTube:

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Traveling in the Right Direction

The late Paul W. Johnson wrote the following essay as an introduction to Chapter Five of “The Essential Aldo Leopold: Quotations and Commentaries,” C. Meine and R. Knight, eds., University of Wisconsin Press, 1999. It is reproduced here with permission of the UW Press and Curt Meine. Paul was a staunch advocate of land use policies which served people and conserved natural resources. During his career, he served as an Iowa state legislator from Decorah, chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The need to conserve soil and water seems obvious today. It was not always so. When Aldo Leopold began his conservation career with the US Forest Service, our nation was on a destructive rampage. Forests and croplands were thought to exist in limitless supply. Rangelands were considered useful only to the extent that they could support livestock grazing; range health was not an issue. Wetlands were considered wastelands. Surface waters were treated as sewers. Meandering streams were deemed too slow and inefficient, and wild rivers needed to be harnessed “for the good of mankind.”

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We All Want Clean Water

The “We All Want Clean Water” podcast is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

About us:

Silvia Secchi is a Professor in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences at the University of Iowa.

Chris Jones is a Research Engineer at IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering at the University of Iowa.

This two-section essay (each of us communicating our own perspectives) outlines some of our thoughts on Iowa water quality within the context of production agriculture, and why we are beginning a regular podcast on this topic.

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A story of hope and the Leopold Center's first leader


Paul W. Johnson passed away in February 2021. His family and Dennis Keeney gave permission to share the text of the forward he wrote for Keeney’s 2015 book The Keeney Place: Life in the Heartland.

In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Act. It offered states 30,000 acres of land for each of their Senators and Representatives. The land was to be sold and its proceeds used to establish colleges in each state to provide higher education for the “industrial classes.” These institutions became known as “land-grant colleges,” and today every state in the Union has at least one land-grant university. In 1887 the Hatch Act added research, and in 1914 the Smith-Lever Act added an extension component. Today, land-grant universities, with their education, extension, and research components can be credited with one of the most revolutionary changes in the status of humanity that our world has ever witnessed.

What does this have to do with The Keeney Place: A Life in the Heartland? Everything.

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Climate change is on the ballot in Des Moines

Carolyn Uhlenhake Walker is a Des Moines resident and retired teacher.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently issued its Sixth Assessment Report on the Physical Science Basis of climate change. The report pulls together the best scientific knowledge about climate change, and it’s clear that the situation is more dire than ever. Human-caused climate change is undeniable. Its scale and scope are unprecedented, and its impacts are already being felt. Significant climate changes are inevitable, and we need to do everything we can to stem the bleeding. 

At a bare minimum, every elected official should recognize the climate crisis and be committed to meet it head on.

That’s why I’m disturbed a climate denier, Cory McAnelly, is running to unseat Josh Mandelbaum, a climate champion on the Des Moines City Council.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Bloody Run blooms again

Kenny Slocum is the naturalist and natural resource manager for the Clayton County Conservation Board. -promoted by Laura Belin

Bloody Run County Park already had a lot going for it when I began working for the Clayton County Conservation Board in 2015. The unassuming 135-acre park outside of Marquette, Iowa has held a special place in the hearts of trout fishermen for decades.

Bloody Run Creek, for which the park is named, is one of Iowa’s few official Outstanding Waters, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources designation reserved for water bodies with exceptionally high quality. The name conjures up evocative imagery of battles won and lost in ages past. Indeed, local folklore offers an array of colorful etymologies and, fact-based or not, they speak to the rugged valley’s longstanding appreciation and respect from the people who know it best.

Unfortunately, it is now ground zero for a modern battle between industrial agriculture and environmentalists.

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