Robbing lakes to pay agland

BY ART CULLEN

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey last week endorsed the Iowa House Republicans’ plan to create a $434 million water quality fund without increasing sales taxes. The House plan would take $232 million from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure (RIF) account that funds vertical infrastructure (the Iowa Supreme Court building, for example) and certain natural resource programs including lake restoration. Taking such a huge amount from the RIF account no doubt will dry up funding for lakes, more than 100 of which are listed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as “impaired.”

Instead of cleaning up Black Hawk Lake or Storm Lake, the funds will be used to write checks to farmland owners who install wetlands or bioreactors or cover crops.

Some history is in order:

The lake restoration account was created under a joint effort of Sen. Steve Kettering, R-Lake View, and Rep. Dan Huseman, R-Aurelia, after federal funding for lake dredging dried up. No state funds were devoted to lakes at that time. Storm Lake hired a lobbyist and went to work with both parties to create a dedicated funding stream for Iowa’s polluted lakes. The fund started at just enough for Storm Lake, then grew to a peak of $9 million when Huseman and State Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, co-chaired the appropriations subcommittee. Were it not for that fund, Storm Lake would not have been dredged.

Kettering and Huseman are two of the most fiscally conservative legislators we have known. But they understand the tremendous value of our lakes, they know how productive they are for recreation and tourism, and they know how efficient and effective restoration projects can be. Anyone who grew up here in the 1960s who sees the water today stands in amazement. It is exponentially cleaner and healthier than it was, thanks to dredging and watershed protection.

Lake restoration at $9 million per year has been proven effective at Storm Lake, Clear Lake, Okoboji and Little Wall Lake (all located in solidly Republican legislative districts). These are showcase lakes for the state and are well worth the pittance afforded them.

It has not been proven that spending $434 million would have any negligible impact on overall water quality in the state. It also must be noted that federal programs exist — some cost-share, some not — that pay farmers to conserve soil and water. No federal program exists to dredge Storm Lake.

Rep. Huseman will chair the appropriations subcommittee again. He should resist any call to cut back the lake restoration program so that an ill-defined water quality slush fund could be put in place. A water quality fund should wait until the Des Moines Water Works case against Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties is resolved. We might not need any water quality funds at all, depending on how the judge rules. We know the lakes need the money.

Pipeline will go through

Native Americans and other opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline claimed a historic victory when the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit to put the pipe under a lake on the Missouri River. They should temper the celebration and remember the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1874, also known as Custer’s Last Stand. It was the greatest victory by the Lakota and Arapahoe, but within three years Crazy Horse had been executed. The remaining Lakota were ordered to “sell or starve” — sell the Black Hills or starve to death. The Native Americans moved onto reservations, and the rest is pathetic history of subjugation and terrorism.

The trend in history is for the Native American to win the battle and lose the war.

The Army Corps denied a permit for now as it considers alternate routes to cross the Missouri in North Dakota. Protesters are camped as the snow and cold set in. There have already been violent confrontations with hired security personnel and protestors. The governor of North Dakota was pleading with the protesters to disperse. The situation was becoming unmanageable.

Somebody had to put a damper on the fire before it got out of control and the Native Americans actually won a war for once.

President Obama had to do something to tell the protesters that he is with him. The Army Corps, after approving of the crossing point last summer, reversed course and denied Energy Transfer Partners a permit to bore underneath the river. The corps said it will study the matter to find alternate crossing points that do not disturb sacred Native American sites.

The opponents thought they won. But they didn’t.

President-elect Trump could, immediately after his inauguration, order the Corps to issue the permit to cross where Energy Transfer Partners would like. He has said he fully supports the pipeline.

One way or the other, the Native Americans will end up losing the war. They fear a pipeline leak could endanger their water supply. They are right. Pipelines leak all the time. Our thirst for cheap oil is greater than Native American thirst for potable water.

The pipeline is laid through Buena Vista County. This thing is a done deal. It was a done deal before the protests. It remains a done deal no matter what the Army Corps says this week. Next month it could say something just the opposite, and probably will. That will be the final answer to the Native Americans.