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Letter to the Editor: Elect Kayla Koether to the State Legislature

Posted: Sun, Oct 7, 2018 1:01 PM

(The following Letter to the Editor has been submitted by Eric Petersen-Brant of Decorah):

To say that Iowa is experiencing an environmental and health crisis is an understatement. This is just one reason why I'm supporting Kayla Koether for House District 55.

A quick glimpse at some Iowa statistics shows a state in environmental peril.
       The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has declared that approximately 70 percent of Iowa's surface waters (lakes and rivers) are impaired. That means that pollution from agricultural runoff, including nitrates, phosphorous, and E. Coli bacteria (from feces), are contaminating our waters to the point that traditional recreational and culinary uses cannot or should not occur without expensive treatment.
       A University of Iowa report released in April showed that Iowa is the leading contributor of pollution responsible for the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, a biologically dead area that expanded to over 8,700 square miles in 2017.
       The same study showed that 80 to 90 percent of nitrates in Iowa's rivers are coming directly from farm drainage tile, with dramatically over-applied nitrogen fertilizer being the culprit.
       Iowa now leads the nation in pork production at least 22 million hogs, more than 7 pigs for every person - nearly all of it in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Nearly all of the manure and waste from those animals equal to the waste generated by more than half the population of the United States - is being either spread or injected across farm fields where much it either winds up in rivers and streams or infiltrates into our ground water. A recent report to the National Institute of Health reported that 20.9 percent of CAFO farm workers harbored methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in their nasal passages. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3646818/)
       Because of the high number of pork and poultry CAFOs estimated to be more than 10,000 Iowa's air quality has suffered greatly in some areas of the state. The amount of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia is unknown as air testing was abandoned by the DNR.
       Of Iowa's 36 million acres, 26 million are in intense agriculture, mostly monoculture crops of corn and soybeans. Less than 2 percent is in public ownership, and 60 percent is comprised of road ditches.
       Iowa is still losing on average more than five tons of top soil per acre per year, most of it flowing down the Mississippi River. At the current rates of soil erosion across Iowa, it is estimated that 35 percent of the state will be void of all topsoil by 2050. That number increases to 80 percent by the end of the century, according to Jerry Hatfield, Ph.D. Laboratory Director and Supervisory Plant Physiologist U.S. Department of Agriculture Agriculture Research Service
.       Starting in 2008, state funding has been cut for water monitoring, as well as for conservation incentives designed to discourage overuse of fertilizers. Initiatives to promote the planting of cover crops to absorb excess nitrogen and the building of buffers between nitrogen-saturated fields and streams also lost funding. The Aldo Leopold Center, which is at the cutting edge of researching more regenerative agricultural practices — including strategies for reducing nitrogen-based fertilizer runoff — had its funding withdrawn in 2017, and its future has been in limbo ever since. The budget for state environmental health positions was cut in half from 2009 to 2017, from $22 million to $11 million last year.

Iowa must take drastic and quick action to turn this mess around.

Unfortunately, Representative Mike Bergen has been demonstrated to be part of the problem instead of part of the solution. One easy tool that could address some of these issues is the Iowa Natural Resource and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, sometimes called Iowa's Land and Water Legacy Fund, or IWLL. This would allocate a 3/8 cent sales tax increase across the board, generating an estimated $185 million dollars annually that could be used for soil and water conservation projects, habitat restoration projects, outdoor recreation facilities such as water and hiking trails, municipal and community grants, and farm conservation assistance programs.   IWLL was approved with a voter ballot initiative in 2010 by a whopping 63 percent of Iowans. Yet today, it has not been implemented because the legislative majority party, which includes Mike Bergen, has refused to pass the sales tax increase. Iowa is the only state in the upper Mississippi River watershed that has not implemented a similar natural resource fund.

Excuses run the gamut, with the most common being "We will not raise taxes." Doing quick math, a 3/8 cent sales tax increase on $20,000 in annual taxable purchases would result in roughly $90 additional taxes. That's a small investment for very big gains. Yet, Mike Bergen continues to stall legislation that would help fix this problem.

After more than 9 years, Iowans want and deserve to see their tax dollars invested in our state's natural environment. Kayla Koether has pledged to vote to implement IWLL because she understands how rural Iowa and our rural communities will benefit. Hence, Kayla gets my vote."