Friday, March 13, 2015

Protecting Minnesota's common resources

I hope that more and more of us are coming to realize that we have some things seriously backwards in this country. If enough of us realize how backwards we have things and how much it can hurt, we might get some much needed changes. Here's an example of what I'm thinking. Minnetonka is "stepping up" its campaign to get owners to clean up after their dogs. Why? Because it's not right and it's not fair to let some people not clean up after their pets when most people do so. Or, looked at another way, if most people aren't picking up after their pets, the city, and its parks and waterways, are being polluted with and by untreated waste. That certainly doesn't fit my understanding of Minnesota Nice. But why then do we as a society think it's OK for farmers to use our waterways as their waste treatment and disposal facilities? Some have argued that fertilizer costs money and farmers don't have money to waste. If farmers were only applying the amount of fertilizer or manure that their crops needed, and applying it at the right rate, at the right time, I don't think the nitrate problem would be increasing as it has. If our waters didn't have excess nutrients, they probably wouldn't look like this:

floating algae(?) clumps
floating algae(?) clumps
Photo by J. Harrington

If you take a quick read of Adjusting the Fifth to a Finite Planet, Part 1 [see sidebar], you'll encounter some interesting thinking about how we need to be approaching "takings." In case you just want the bottom line, I think it says farmers, pet owners and others who crap up the environment are taking property from the rest of us. Our ability to enjoy a river or lake, or park, shared by all, is spoiled by those who treat it as a sewer or trash can. Several farmers and farm organizations have said a current proposal to require and enforce a fifty foot buffer to protect water quality is like a "taking" of their property, property they paid for. I could buy that reasoning if farms had to treat their runoff as cities do their storm water or if farms didn't add nitrates or phosphorus or whatever else is in the water infiltrating or running off of or being drain tiled from farms to surface or groundwater. Oh, wait! The governor did say he'd be willing to listen to alternatives to the buffer proposal. So would I. I can suggest some for consideration. I don't think we should have to choose between inexpensive ethanol and pork chops or clean water. The rest of us have been doing our part since the early 1970's when Congress passed the Clean Water Act Amendments of 1972. Isn't it time agriculture stepped up to honoring its environmental responsibilities for water quality? Maybe an alternative for farmers would be to pay excise taxes on their equipment to pay for resource improvements, as hunters and anglers have been doing for years. As the population of this planet exceeds 7 billion, we've run out of room for free riders, you know, those who want the rest of us to pick up the tab, or the poop, for them.

Here's today's shades of green. I hope someday they apply only to the plants in Minnesota and not the waters.


The Farm on the Great Plains

By William E. Stafford

A telephone line goes cold;
birds tread it wherever it goes.
A farm back of a great plain
tugs an end of the line.

I call that farm every year,
ringing it, listening, still;
no one is home at the farm,
the line gives only a hum.

Some year I will ring the line
on a night at last the right one,
and with an eye tapered for braille
from the phone on the wall

I will see the tenant who waits—
the last one left at the place;
through the dark my braille eye
will lovingly touch his face.

“Hello, is Mother at home?”
No one is home today.

“But Father—he should be there.”
No one—no one is here.


“But you—are you the one . . . ?”
Then the line will be gone
because both ends will be home:
no space, no birds, no farm.

My self will be the plain,
wise as winter is gray,
pure as cold posts go
pacing toward what I know.


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