Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Iowa's Everglades

June 25, 2008

Hold the Raindrop Where it Falls

Des Moines Register
joined the chorus of thoughtful Iowans who are calling for Greenbelts, Greenways, and other water and soil conservation approaches to flood control. Yesterday Florida Governor Charlie Crist announced a $1.7 billion purchase of 187,000 acres of sugar fields. We have a lot to learn from the Florida Everglades preservation efforts -- and the Register.

The Register notes that today's emphasis on turning floodplains into parks that can withstand flooding, rather than condo and business developments that cannot, is . . .

a reminder of the simple advice shared many years ago by former Register cartoonist Ding Darling, a renowned conservationist: "Hold the raindrop where it falls."

Beyond battling Mother Nature with man-made structures to control her rivers and streams, Iowa must work with Mother Nature to help her keep the raindrops where they fall.

That will require a change in how Iowans collectively view our water, not as a hindrance - to be drained off fields and parking lots as quickly as possible, often carrying animal waste, fertilizer and street runoff downstream - but as a natural resource to soak up and savor.

It also will require a collective commitment from everyone in a watershed, everywhere the raindrop falls.

Commit to conservation

That means stepping up farm conservation efforts. If Iowa's rolling hills include more trees and swamps, excess water is more likely to be sponged up and slowed.

Curbing flooding downstream means working upstream to restore wetlands, prairies and natural barriers to control water.

Editorial, "Embrace a New Water Ethic for Iowa,"
Des Moines Register, June 22, 2008.

Imagine Iowa 1000 years ago, with its prairies and river systems. Look at a map of Iowa that highlights our vast network of rivers. And then look at, and learn about, the Florida Everglades -- the so-called "River of Grass."

No, I'm not suggesting what Iowa tourism needs is more alligators.

What I am suggesting is that we have some problems, and opportunities, in common with Florida.

Here's a brief excerpt from Wikipedia's detailed entry on the Everglades:

The Everglades are a subtropical wetland located in the southern portion of the U.S. state of Florida, comprising the southern half of a large watershed. The entire system begins in the vicinity of Orlando with the Kissimmee River. The Everglades includes the region that spans from Lake Okeechobee south to Florida Bay, as well as the interconnected ecosystems within the boundary. The Kissimmee River discharges into Lake Okeechobee, a vast shallow fresh water lake. Water leaving Lake Okeechobee in the wet season forms the Everglades, a slow-moving river 60 miles (97 km) wide and over 100 miles (160 km) long, flowing southward across a slightly angled limestone shelf to Florida Bay at the southern end of the state. It is such a unique convergence of land, water, and climate that the use of singular and plural to refer to the Everglades is appropriate.[1] Characteristics of the climate of South Florida include annual wet and dry seasons, and the region has a history of recurring flooding and drought that has shaped the natural environment.
"Everglades," Wikipedia. The piece goes on to provide details about the variety and extent of water plans and projects from the past and for the future.

The Everglades is one very wide River of Grass, covering much of the state. The Iowa rivers system is one vast river system covering all of the "State of Grass" -- or what once was a prairie state.

The Everglades has become polluted from, among other things, fertilizer. Development is encroaching. That creates rapid runoff and flooding.

Sound familiar?

Iowa ranks near the bottom of all states in terms of public lands, park and forest lands, wetlands and prairies. Some of our rivers are the most polluted in the country.

What is Florida doing about its problems? Read on.

Two sides that rarely agree on anything celebrated Tuesday a "monumental" but still tentative $1.7 billion buyout that would put the nation's largest sugar grower out of business in six years but fill a gaping hole in Florida's long-stalled Everglades restoration.

The deal, expected to be final by Nov. 30, is good for the environment -- the nearly 300 square miles of sugar land is "the holy grail," one Everglades advocate said. And it's good for U.S. Sugar Corp., which will get $1.7 billion and six years of rent-free operations with the state as its landlord.

In return, Florida gets a chance to reinvigorate the stalled restoration of the Everglades, end years of bickering over pollution by "Big Sugar" and -- years from now -- get more much-needed clean water flowing into the River of Grass.

"I can envision no better gift to the Everglades, or the people of Florida, than to place in public ownership this missing link that represents the key to true restoration," Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday, likening the announcement to the creation of America's first national park, Yellowstone. . . .

No one has drawn up specific plans yet, but a likely scenario involves massively expanding reservoirs and the 44,000 acres of treatment marshes that the state is building, at a cost of more than $1.2 billion.

The marshes scrub farm runoff to the pristine water quality level needed to protect the sensitive Everglades system. . . .

Michael Sole, the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, . . . said the deal would have the added benefit of easing pressure to pump polluted water out of Lake Okeechobee to protect its deteriorating dike, discharges that have choked estuaries on both coasts in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers with repeated, damaging algae blooms.
Curtis Morgan and Scott Hiaasen, "Sugar buyout hailed as Glades `gift,'" Miami Herald, June 25, 2008.

There is no shortage of ideas that simultaneously eliminate or reduce flooding, purify our rivers and streams, encourage wildlife, reduce greenhouse gases, minimize the pollution from runoff, increase recreational opportunities, promote tourism, and stimulate economic growth.

Florida has just invested $1.7 billion in one such effort. Johnson County residents will be given the opportunity to provide roughly 1% of that amount to produce similar benefits here.

If we continue to re-build in floodplains, if we refuse to change our water runoff practices where we can, and fail to build Greenbelts and Greenways where we can't, if we fail to demonstrate the political courage to put in place the solutions that have already been worked out by others, we will deserve what we get in future flood losses -- and don't get in future benefits.

Its our grandchildren and great grandchildren who don't deserve the former, and do deserve the latter.

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1 comment:

John Barleykorn said...

I agree that more can be done in this area. Florida recognizes that its well being and economy depend on its natural areas. Iowa on the other hand is dominated by the Farm Bureau. The Farm economy has driven this state and owns the Iowa Senate. Anything like creating a large tallgrass prairie would be resisted by them.

Iowa's political parties and politicians are not up to the challenge. They simply are incapable of moving the state forward. The only real change comes locally. The best thing the Iowa Legislature can do for the state of Iowa is to disband.