Underwhelmed

Words such as “overwhelming” and “amazing” are used by agri-industry to describe the awe they hold at just over 1,000 Iowa farmers signing up to share in the $2.8 million 2013 Iowa Water Quality Initiative. These farmers agreed to install grass strips, improve wetlands and adopt other conservation practices with the state willing to share the cost. To those farmers, we offer our heartiest good wishes.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship reported that 1,125 Iowa farms were signed up for the initiative, sparked by Gov. Terry Branstad during the last legislative session. This is part of the state’s voluntary nutrient reduction program which seeks to lessen nitrogen and phosphorous loads into the Mississippi River. Those chemicals are killing large swaths of the Gulf of Mexico — large as the state of Connecticut.

Now consider that there are 920 farms in Buena Vista County, according to Iowa State University.

And we have 1,000 farm owners representing 121,000 acres in Iowa signing up to improve our landscape.

There are 30 million acres of Iowa land being farmed. In BV County alone, some 320,000 acres are under the plow.

What’s overwhelming and amazing is that so few care about a problem so big.

Our lakes are filling in. Our topsoil is washing into the Gulf. Yet, Buena Vista County had the third-fewest number of acres enrolled in this initiative — and showed the least interest of all 99 counties on a per-acre basis. BV County farms signed on for just $1,678 of that $2.8 million. Last spring, BV County recorded the highest soil losses in the state at up to 20 tons per acre following heavy rains.

We must believe up here that we may continue doing things as we always have. Folks in other places are getting restless. If we don’t take change upon ourselves, someone someday will impose change on us. The Des Moines Water Works already has threatened to sue the non-point polluters in the Raccoon and Des Moines river watersheds. Other interest groups have sued over toxic water quality in the Mississippi.

Gov. Branstad and Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey urged a voluntary strategy to prove Iowa farmland owners are up to the challenge of keeping their soil where it belongs. So far, the land owners are letting them down.

We can do better. We must.

Pave, baby, pave

Easy for him to say that: Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, last week challenged the legislature, Gov. Branstad and the Iowa Department of Transportation to set aside $360 million, or so, to finish the last 44-mile leg of four-lane road from Early to Moville. The press showed up Monday morning to ask Branstad about this, who understandably swallowed hard.

Branstad said that the state will get that last leg done at $90 million per year over the next four years somehow. He is just not sure how. Gas tax receipts are declining. A gas tax increase is off the table, the governor said at the urging of the Tea Party. He is looking at all sorts of other opportunities to raise revenues, by nickels and dimes if need be, to take care of Hwy. 20 and all the other crumbling concrete in Iowa. (Last we knew, BV County had scores of bridges and culverts labeled “deficient.”)

It has been a religious article since 1960 that Hwy. 20 should be four lanes. It has been done in fits and starts. The idea is that a four-lane highway will bring the growth and prosperity we have longed for these many years. Fort Dodge is still Fort Dodge. Webster City is less a city today, with four lanes to Early, than it was when it had Electrolux, which apparently did not care where Hwy. 20 went. Waterloo is right on the Avenue of the Saints and continues to have an unemployment rate higher than Ida County.

Sen. Bertrand will lose no votes for leading the Hwy. 20 cheer. We suppose it does make sense to get the darned road finished since we have wasted more than $500 million so far connecting us to Dubuque, where most Storm Lakers never have been. We also can appreciate that the governor’s chair can get uncomfortable when the cheerleaders refuse to give you room to move.

Hwy. 20 will get done. Then the Hwy. 30 four-lane boosters can start hollering louder and waste another billion paving our state from north to south. We would prefer they first fix the bridges and then Hwy. 3, for what it’s worth.