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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America Needs Farmers? Farmers need Iowans, too

Dan Piller: The Iowa Farm Bureau might want to start thinking of city folks as partners, rather than supplicants, before it is too late.

A big winner at the October 9 Iowa-Penn State football game in Iowa City, besides the Hawkeye team and its fans, was the Iowa Farm Bureau, which used the game for its annual “America Needs Farmers” (ANF) celebration.

The late, legendary Hawkeye coach Hayden Fry created ANF during the 1980s as a way to use his successful teams to remind Iowans of the struggles of agriculture, which was undergoing a severe downturn.

The 1980s farm crisis eventually ended, and by the 2000s Iowa farmers saw record yields, profits, and land prices. But ANF has lived on, even as farmers are enjoying one of their best years in recent history.

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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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Iowa Supreme Court rejects challenge on Raccoon River water quality

Neil Hamilton is the former director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center and professor emeritus at Drake University law school. He submitted an amicus curiae brief in this case on behalf of several Drake law professors, who urged the Iowa Supreme Court to define the political question doctrine narrowly in order to preserve “citizen’s access to the courts of Iowa for the vindication of their constitutional rights.”

In a closely decided 4-3 split ruling the Iowa Supreme Court rejected a case filed by Iowa Citizens for Community Action and Food and Water Watch alleging the state of Iowa failed to protect the interests of the public in the Raccoon River. The case involved an appeal from the Polk County District Court rejection of the state’s motion to dismiss the case. 

The majority ruled the district court’s decision should be reversed and the case dismissed, concluding the plaintiffs do not have standing to bring the suit, and their effort to use the public trust doctrine to establish the duty of state officials is a “nonjusticiable political question.” The majority’s ruling and analysis generated three separate dissenting opinions, all agreeing the case should move forward, in large part because the state had conceded the plaintiffs had standing and the merits of the public trust doctrine were not in question.

A reading of the majority opinion shows it was premised on a determination by the four justices to not involve the Court in the difficult and controversial political issues involving water quality in Iowa. This motivation was demonstrated in at least four ways:

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A new vision for Iowa agriculture and Iowans

John Norwood is a Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner.

These are my prepared remarks from the June 17 event announcing the Central Iowa Water Quality Infrastructure Project. I initiated a new bundled approach with the help of many others after attending an agricultural field day several years ago, where I wondered, how we could improve our effectiveness? Polk County, state, and federal government agencies are involved with the project; Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig also spoke at Thursday’s kickoff.

The program is novel because Polk County is moving from single installations that used to require each landowner hiring a contractor, to batch installations of 50 and next year more than 100, using a general contractor bidding approach run by the county. The Soil and Water Conservation District actively targets sites using mapping technology and direct landowner outreach to secure participation, as opposed to waiting for landowners to come forward. The county, state, and municipal sources provided 100 percent cost share, and the installation is largely turnkey for the participants.

Secretary Naig, my fellow commissioners, partners, members of the media, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen:

I appreciate the opportunity to join you all today to celebrate this innovative ground-breaking, systematic approach to getting things done. This strategy was born from a chance meeting with Charlie Schafer at a field day several years ago, me asking a lot of questions out of curiosity, followed by several coffee conversations, where together we began to reimagine a new way for delivering conservation infrastructure at scale. And then we widened the circle to include other key players in the conversation who built on the vision and drove it forward with the help of many others. Two of whom you will hear from in a few minutes.

First let me note that this type of locally led effort can be tailored whether we are delivering water quality infrastructure or soil health systems. If the strategies are scalable, turnkey, and targeted, the impact can be magnified many times. What we do in Polk County can be replicated in any of our other 98 counties, and as a “learning organization” that is how my District can support a larger effort. Stay tuned.  

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