116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
If denial were a river in Iowa, it likely would be polluted by agricultural runoff.
But, actually, denial is Iowa’s default environmental protection strategy.
Happy Earth Day.
Last week, American Rivers, an organization that’s been advocating for protection of the nation’s rivers for the better part of 50 years, added the Raccoon River in central Iowa to its list of America’s 10 Most Endangered Rivers.
The Raccoon is the primary surface water source of drinking water for the Des Moines Water Works and its 500,000 customers. According to the report, polluted agricultural runoff, including manure over-applied on cropland from 750 livestock confinement operations, rushes into the Raccoon, contributing to “a water crisis of epic proportions.”
Iowa’s efforts to convince farmers to voluntarily reduce polluted runoff are “fundamentally inadequate and have failed spectacularly,” the report said. The Water Works has spent nearly $20 million on nitrate removal infrastructure to keep levels below clean water standards. Last year, when drought conditions caused low water levels on the Raccoon and a secondary water source, the Des Moines River, toxic algae blooms tainted both rivers. The Water Works had to scramble to get water from other sources.
“The corporate agribusiness industry with the help of Iowa’s government has enabled factory farms to expand at an increasingly rapid rate,” the report said.
On Friday, during the taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press,” Republican Iowa Sec. of Agriculture Mike Naig waded deep into denial.
“Well, first of all, that so-called report was a bit of propaganda, I think,” Naig said. “It was obviously a Washington D.C. based advocacy organization, they can go out and say what they want to, but what they talked about related to Iowa is not based in fact. We're moving in the right direction.
“We've got a long ways to go and I don't sugar coat that at all,” Naig said. He also said the Raccoon was nominated for the list by an “activist group” in Iowa, referring to Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and dismissed it as a “fundraising plea.”
Saying Iowa is headed in the right direction on water quality is the sort of sugar coating that might spark a statewide dental emergency. The amount of nitrate flowing into Iowa streams and rivers remains massive and is increasing. And state leaders flatly reject the notion of requiring producers and landowners to adopt even the most minimal protection measures.
Speaking of fundraising, in 2018 when it looked like Naig, a former Monsanto lobbyist, might not get elected, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation put out a plea to agricultural interests for donations to its affiliated 527 group, Iowans for Agriculture. They hoped to help pull Naig across the finish line.
The Farm Bureau poured in nearly $300,000. Iowa Select Farms, the state’s largest hog producer, chipped in $25,000. Monsanto donated $15,000. In the final weeks of October, the group spent $335,000 on media and other advocacy costs.
So who is pitching propaganda? The decades-old group advocating for clean rivers or the agriculture secretary who could wear a NASCAR-style jumpsuit adorned with the sponsor patches of powerful defenders of the dirty status quo? Anyone who refuses to see the obvious answer is waist-deep in denial.
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