Sunday, January 30, 2022

A trio of events occurred this week that produced a visceral reaction in my viscera, which I now know must be in the middle of my brain because each event made my brain feel like a bulging aneurysm was about to burst forth with such magnitude that the blood would spray out each ear like an astronaut losing his pressurized helmet in some gory sci-fi movie taking place on the planet Ucornus.

Yes, I’ve been told to be less evocative.

Since my reaction after each event was WHAT THE HELL, I thought it best to wait a few days to write something, giving the pressurized aneurysm time to dissipate. Alas, I’m still wondering WHAT THE HELL, so here goes. I’m not putting these in the order of occurrence, I’m just letting that aneurytic pressure drain out through my fingertips organically.


Governor Kim Reynolds announced that Iowa was going to use $38 million from the Water Infrastructure Fund to fund three water quality and infrastructure projects across Iowa (1), with $11 million going to the Dyersville East Road Utilities Project at the Field of Dreams site, for water distribution and wastewater collection infrastructure. “The project will serve 114,000 Iowans across two counties and create approximately 350 jobs.” Indeed, the combined population of Dubuque and Delaware county is about 114,000, but Dubuque city (population 59,000) and most of the rest of the municipalities in the two counties already have water and wastewater treatment, not that some of them couldn’t use some upgrades. I think the city of Dubuque is in pretty good shape.

Call me cynic if you must, but I feel like the manager just called a squeeze play or a double steal or a pitchout or whatever baseball lingo works best here. A person can only imagine that the governor or some other titan of Iowa business or politics rang up Commissioner of Major League Baseball Rob Manfred last August and said “Dude, we just looooved that 3-hour long corn commercial”, and Manfred replying something to effect of “Well, (Yankees star) Giancarlo Stanton has a $135 million contract, and neither he nor Kevin Costner likes having to crap in a porta potty. Let’s talk turkey.”

Voila, water infrastructure comes to a ball diamond carved out of corn field. Interestingly, Dyersville is home to the National Farm Toy Museum, which is a nice segue to the next story.


Polk County announced they are buying a $600,000 cover crop planter, because apparently the owners of the most valuable farmland on earth are unable to part with enough of the beer money they saved for the winter in Fort Myers to get pollution-reducing cover crop seed in the ground in the Raccoon and Des Moines River watersheds (2). Some of the quotes on this story are just golden. “Our hope is for the machine to travel around and get some excitement.” And, “We recognize the value this project can have in sharing some of the responsibility to protect our public waterways and watersheds.” And, “What happens upstream impacts the safety of our drinking water and the recreation in our rivers and lakes for everyone in Polk County.”

Context people, context. They *hope* to plant cover crops on 10,000 acres using the machine. There about 6 million acres in the two watersheds, 75% of it cropped. The average nitrate-nitrogen load traveling through the city of Des Moines in the two rivers is 105,000,000 pounds, per year. Best case scenario is the planter will reduce that 0.1%, or about 80,000 pounds. Cost for farmers to buy that lost nitrogen in the first place: $67,000. Bear in mind you (and yes I mean you) still have to buy the seeds, and the thing needs to be carted around which surely cannot be cheap. I’m told that dispersing the cover crop seed into a standing corn crop with an airplane is just about as effective and costs $7/acre. But, this shiny contraption for sure will make a nice prop for public figures to stand next to at the State Fair and ride in Suburbanville’s 2022 4th of July parade, peacocking their water quality cred. The most puzzling thing about this hog and pony show is the fact that Des Moines Water Works, who knows context better than anybody, has now apparently decided to be a contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire’s Patsy”, Iowa’s longest-running TV gameshow. On what planet (other than Ucornus) does this make sense?


Evidently the Homebuilders of Iowa have finally learned a thing or two from their countryside compatriots, Hogbuilders of Iowa. Of course the livestock industry has their “Master Matrix” regulation, if you want to call it that, that prevents the counties from regulating the livestock industry. (Just writing that sentence makes it feel like the aneurysm is pressurizing again.) The homebuilders are like “Dudes, sweet law!” So of course we get legislation proposed in the Iowa legislature this session (3), sponsored by Shannon Lundgren of Peosta, that prevents municipal governments from making their own stormwater mitigation rules. So who registers “for” this bill? But of course, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and them good ole boys at the Homebuilders Association of Iowa. So after decades of having agriculture drag out the bogeyman of urban storm water runoff, rural legislators want to conspire with the homebuilders to keep the cities from doing anything about it.

Iowa. You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.

To finish up with a bit on cover crops. Since 1995, Iowa farmers have received more than $10 billion dollars in taxpayer-funded indemnity payments, and the feds pay out $1.5 billion per year of your tax dollars to insurance companies to administer the crop insurance program. Cover crops are known to reduce weather and pest risks to crops. Why not require cover crops on a field if it is to receive taxpayer-funded crop insurance? On what planet (other than Ucornus) does this not make sense? But when I bring this up, some farmer inevitably counters with “well, they don’t work in the northeast of corner of the southwest section of Contrarian County where the old school house used to be, so we can’t require them, or any other damn thing for that matter.” At times I feel like Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Tea Party. The characters bombard Alice with farcical and nonsensical riddles until she finally gives up and tells them this is the stupidest goddamn tea party she’s ever been to.

We literally let agriculture dictate to us how water quality is to be addressed in this state. Our water will be terrible until we summon the courage to change this dynamic.  

  1. Corridor Business Journal, January 28, 2022.  
  2. Strong, J. Polk County buys newfangled cover crop tractor for upstream farmers. Iowa Capital Dispatch, January 27, 2020.