There’s no denying it

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

It was nice of Gov. Kim Reynolds to stop by Little Storm Lake on Wednesday to talk up water quality. We appreciate it. We wish she would champion the Department of Natural Resources and more funding for lakes. The day before, she was at the Farm Bureau building down there in West Des Moines talking with Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley how awful the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule hanging over from the Obama Administration is. A “land grab.” An assault on farmers. They impressed that point on the new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, who would just as soon eliminate the agency. Certainly he could just do away with WOTUS with the stroke of a pen. Why waste more breath?

Last week we went down to Ames to visit with Dr. Gene Takle, a world-renowned climate modeler at Iowa State University. We asked where he was from: “The Little House on the Prairie.” Walnut Grove, Minn., north of Worthington. He’s a farm boy who attended Luther College, ran the Drake Relays in 1964 for the Norse and ended up spending his entire distinguished career at Iowa State. He has worked on the National Climate Assessments every four years mandated by Congress. He is working on the current assessment that is in the draft stage and is supposed to be released in December 2018. The New York Times reports that many of the leading scientists working on the assessment have reason to believe that the Trump Administration wants to suppress its findings. Takle, for one, has no problem blurting out the facts, and one of the most prominent is this: It’s the humidity.

Water vapor is the greatest of all heat-trapping — or, greenhouse — gases. Absolute humidity is increasing 5% per decade, Takle says. Because the Gulf of Mexico is warming, that heat energy plays out in more extreme weather in the Corn Belt of the Upper Midwest, and more moisture in Iowa particularly.

Iowa State soil scientist Dr. Rick Cruse will tell you that climate-driven extreme weather events are increasing and driving more soil to the surface waters. It leads to overloads of phosphorous and nitrate in surface water through erosion, which helps expand the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. It was recently reported that the dead zone has grown from the size of Connecticut to the size of New Jersey. Bans on certain fishing have been imposed because shellfish are being suffocated by our excess.

Drainage systems have been improved and expanded because of significantly higher soil moisture since 1980. That led the Des Moines Water Works to sue our county over the fouled state of the Raccoon River. But agriculture is exempt from the Clean Water Act, and drainage systems are essentially beyond the law in the eyes of the Iowa Supreme Court and Federal District Court Judge Leonard Strand. So the hyperventilation over WOTUS over the past eight years, much like that over the Affordable Care Act written by Sen. Grassley, is just that. It adds hot air to the Bermuda stream emanating from the Gulf but it adds no light to the discourse over agriculture and the environment.

Denial is a powerful thing. We can deny that Little Lake was once a lake, and declare it a marsh suitable for filtering soil lost from our fields. Luddites denied the Industrial Revolution and sealed their destiny. The South denied the depravity of slavery and its broken economic system; such a comment by Tim Humes at a recent Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors meeting caused Supervisor Dale Arends to walk out. You can insist that the water should be green and not blue and that climate change is made of green cheese. But you cannot deny the facts expressed by Takle about humidity, that Earth is warming for real, and that it all is certainly exacerbated by our activities.

“This is all established science. Done,” Takle said to us regarding his humidity findings. There is nothing in the historical record or in his models going forward to suggest that we will not experience more violent rains that cause more erosion dotted with severe droughts interrupted by extreme rains. The 100-year flood has become the 25-year flood in Cedar Rapids. No administration can suppress facts that already are obvious.

It is obvious that the chemical base on which we plant is washing into rivulets, creeks, drainage ditches, rivers, lakes and even the ocean. The loss of our soil base already is chipping into corn quality, Cruse says.

People who don’t want to hear this, who deny that we have to change in fundamental ways, take their victory in the fact that 1,000 farm land owners in Iowa this year signed up for $8.7 million in water quality funds. That brings the total using the state program that promotes cover crops and the like to 2,600 farms. There are about 40,000 farms in Iowa with more than $100,000 per year in income. Improved stewardship is not exactly washing over Iowa like a common nine-inch rain these days. The percentage of farmers adapting winter cover crops or integrated livestock management is not growing as fast as the absolute humidity in Iowa, or even the temperature increase, and certainly not the percentage increase in tonnage of soil lost to the Mississippi River each year.

The established system will resist challenges to it forcefully until Nature demands what it demands. The Luddites could not ignore the tractor and the plantation could not ignore the cotton gin — economic forces writ so large that no system could withstand them. So it is with climate change. We can argue about whether the United States can demand that we not pollute the surface water or not. That is what the water works lawsuit was about. It is what fuels the WOTUS hyper-ventilation. It causes the Trump people to want to suppress simple facts that any smart farmer knows he is already knee-deep in. In the end, Nature will have its way in explaining reality to us.