Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rollin' on the river

Spent part of yesterday being carted about on a perfectly lovely tourist attraction dolled up to look like a mini riverboat called the Magnolia Blossom.  The purpose of the outing was to get some interested parties in the same place to discuss ways to minimize the sediment runoff of the Minnesota River Watershed.

The nature of the problem is pretty clear.  Water is running faster down the tributaries and the main channel of the Minnesota.  This faster-running water can carry more sediment and causes more bank erosion.  This sediment is filling up the upper end of Lake Pepin—much to the horror of those who consider it to be one of the more beautiful places on earth.  And then there is the other problem that Minnesota farmers are sending WAY too much of their expensive fertilizers down the river—the dead zone off Louisiana is ghastly and to their credit, this group seemed genuinely dedicated to finding solutions.

But while there was genuine consensus of the nature of the problem, this did not mean there was any agreement of what to do.  Start with the dilemmas of who causes what?

The problems of fast-running water are largely those associated with urban sprawl.  The more land you cover with roads, roofs, and parking lots, the more water you have to move away every time it rains because it isn't soaking into the ground.  This problem is generally caused by real estate developers building on the cheap because there usually are much better ways of managing runoff—only they happen to be expensive.

The "dead zone" dilemmas are exacerbated by the nature of agriculture.  Farmers change their growing methods only after considerable care and firm evidence that what they are doing doesn't work any longer.  Change is difficult and usually expensive.  The term "bet the farm" was coined to cover this economic resistance to change.

And so because doing the right thing by nature is difficult and expensive and everyone is broke and up to their eyeballs in debt, we see folks making certain we know about what the other side is doing to destroy mother earth.  And the whole idea behind this exercise it to get someone else to pay the bills.  That this slum landlord mentality has crept into the minds of some of the more sensible people I can imagine speaks volumes for the evil insanity that is neoliberalism.

Talked with a guy from the DNR who was straight out of central casting.  Just the sort of person one would want managing the public's resources.  And yet at one point, he ventured the notion that the problem with agriculture was insufficient regulation.  When I suggested that maybe the best way to get farmers to change is to suggest a believable alternative and then offer to pay for some of the capital expense, his response was, "but the State has no money."  Which is true.  And that is the problem he has never considered—WHY doesn't the state have any money?  After all, the creation of money is perhaps the easiest thing humans do!  And so because he cannot ask the obvious question, he must suggest an absurd "solution"—telling farmers they have to do something in the public good without providing the resources to do it.  Because the folks at DNR aren't really about solving problems—their role is to make rules and hope someone else can solve them.


The Minnesota River is low. This is quite amazing considering that it has had two major floods in the last three years.  The point where the heron is standing in the picture below is the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.  The Mississippi flows are WAY down further downriver where the drought has been especially severe.   It's still pretty green for a Minnesota August—we obviously missed the drought (mostly).  Heard a guy who suggested that in the heart of the corn belt near the Iowa border, the crops are stressed but folks expect to get 75% of their good-year crops.

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