Law can’t stop it

In Iowa we beg people to put buffer strips along our rivers and lakes to keep them relatively clear of sediment. It doesn’t work. Farming the road ditches has become a popular practice, as any motorist with his eyes open can see. It shows up in our lakes — the mud is strangling lakes all over Northwest Iowa such that they might not see another century — and eventually in a huge nitrified dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

In Minnesota, they have a law that requires at least a 50-foot grass buffer to protect streams and lakes. Not even that can inspire soil stewardship. The Environmental Working Group surveyed the Land of 10,000 Lakes and found that only 18% of the farmland met the law when it came to perennial rivers and streams. The percentages were worse for small streams and drainage ditches.

The better the farmland, the worse the buffering. The study also found that the best stewards often are located next to the worst violators. What the neighbors think does not seem to matter.

Southern Minnesota and the Minnesota River Basin around Mankato show the worst sedimentation problems, the study found.

It sounds analogous to Northwest Iowa.

Here, we use carrots to induce people not to farm up to lake banks. They are still farming up to lake banks. In Minnesota, they use a stick. And they are still turning ground next to the Minnesota River.

Minnesota does not have the gumption to enforce the law. Iowa does not have the gumption to pass a law.

Regardless, the result is the same: Dying lakes, a destroyed intercoastal fishing area in the Gulf, and less productive ground in Minnesota and Iowa to grow corn.

It would appear that a regulation is no match for $5 corn. And, it would appear that there will not be 10,000 lakes in Minnesota for long. Iowa is already kissing its prairie pothole lakes goodbye or spending ridiculous amounts of money trying to save what is left.

An old friend speaks

Last week we did not believe that Democrats in the Iowa Senate would have time to pin a tail on Gov. Terry Branstad over secret cash payouts to former state employees, meddling with the state pension board and other sundry allegations of cronyism and lax management. Along comes the governor’s friend(?) and former chief of staff, attorney Doug Gross, on Sunday and does the job for the Senate Oversight Committee.

Appearing on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program, Gross said:

“You gotta then have people within your organization that are going to be running the place consistent with your principles and your management style, and in some cases that hasn’t happened.”

To which the governor responded at his Monday news conference:

“Wait a minute. He has not been on my staff for 25 years and he is clearly out of touch with what is going on in state government today. Next question.”

Gross is a power lawyer, a fundraiser and Republican confidante. For Branstad to brush him off in such a way is remarkable in and of itself.

Gross must believe that some department heads messed up. The governor must be feeling it, too.

Gross may have been trying to put some distance between Branstad and the bad actors. The bad news keeps rolling, after all. The Toledo home for children. The Iowa Veteran’s Home. Secret hush payments to people who were fired. This is not the Branstad Administration that Gross grew to love.

It tells us that where there is smoke there probably is fire. Someone actually recognized reality.

Before, it may have appeared that it was Democrats going after Branstad on any tangent. Now, it appears that the senators are not alone. Doug Gross, of all people, agrees that something went wrong.

This is something Jack Hatch, Branstad’s gubernatorial appointment, can run in TV ads over and over again: Doug Gross raining down on Terry Branstad.

It could spell trouble.

Iowans historically have prided themselves on clean, honest government. Terry Branstad always seemed to personify that value. When they see one of his best friends raising an eyebrow, so will they.