Murphy’s Law 2019 #37

June 19, 2019

Hello once again, producers and others interested! I took some time after the session to recover while you dealt with an often tortuous planting season and now while you look for opportunities to spray, I rejoin you via blog to relay the core of whatever assignment comes my way. Monday and Tuesday found me in Sioux Falls as it was South Dakota’s turn to host the International Legislator’s Forum. Founded back over 30 years ago as a way to get Manitobans, Minnesotans and North Dakotans together in a manner which could potentially help solve some of our mutual water problems, South Dakota joined the rotation in the last few years. Annual get-togethers last 3 days and various topics of mutual concern are discussed. NDSGA focused this year on maintaining relationships that they have cultivated amongst these participants at least as far back as 2013 when I recall them taking part while I was a legislative conferee. Besides those discussions, the major topic to kick off the conference this year was Water Quality. Presenters included officials of the East Dakota Water Development District, the Environmental and Stormwater Manager for the city of Sioux Falls and the Chair of the Moody County and Big Sioux River Watershed Committee. They spoke of what they have done to try cleaning the river, but when the Mayor greeted us the first night while we looked down upon the scenic falls, he said it was okay to look, but not touch. “Stay out of the river!” he said. The next day, one of the scientists it was due mostly to the dangerous E. coli concentrations. It turns out that, like our state of ND {Murphy’s Law #42 from 2017} SD is facing some daunting issues when it comes to water quality. Every two years, each state reports to Congress. It was reported to the ILF that SD has 73.5% of its rivers and streams did not support even one beneficial use while 84.3% of lakes and reservoirs did not support any beneficial uses. They also described mercury as becoming significantly worse although they have not tested widely and they do not know the source, blaming global atmospheric deposition.
My favorite presentation was from Don Reicosky (Soil Scientist Emeritus, USDA-ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab from the U. of Minnesota, St. Paul.) He stressed the importance of soil health and carbon controls in water quality. As an elder in the field, he expressed optimism about the current crop of farmers more fully understanding how soil health and water quality are linked. One of the reasons he said is that soil health and water quality science has improved greatly and that knowledge is getting out there, especially in the last 6 to 8 years. He named Dr. Abby Wick of NDSU Research and Extension as being a rock star in terms of getting the word out to producers. Another was Angela Ehlers, Exec. Dir., SD Association of Conservation Districts. She stressed the scarcity of fresh usable water and some problems on the horizon for agriculture where water quality is concerned. She mentioned the infamous Des Moines Waterworks lawsuit dismissed due to lack of standing, but then told us about a new lawsuit by a public group – the Iowa Citizens for Community Involvement and Food and Water Watch. They are suing the state of Iowa for essentially failing to protect its citizens from the dangers of polluted water. It is generally understood in our country that a basic role for government is to provide that type of protection, so it will be interesting to see how this comes out. At any rate, she talked about how civic participation is important and how the NRCS is working with a SD Conservation Mentor Network to share real on-farm/ranch experiences with application of science-based conservation and systems. Their SD Grassland Coalition is helping with that in a big way. She suggested some resources including Soil Health at Water moves across, through and under the land to all of us, so there is merit in citizens being mindful of how it is treated as a valuable resource. There were also presentations showing how much more water is able to be held by soil with a greater organic material content. Buffer strips were also discussed. One longtime legislative acquaintance from Minnesota told the group that while buffer strips are helpful for water quality, it was a mistake to impose them upon Minnesota farmers. That the way to do it was speak with the farmers first and when they saw the benefits, the program would come. True enough.