Watershed, backwards?

Friday, November 9, 2018

The efforts in the Racoon River Watershed project are commendable and absolutely well-intentioned. Any improvements that are eventually made can likely only be helpful.

But the approach seems somehow backward - cart before the horse - doesnít it?

Instead of determining what needs to be done for maximum environmental impact, and then budgeting to achieve it over time, in this case the money came lump sum first without any real plan on how it was to be used, except that it was to be spent within five years. That leaves the local watershed program with $2.5 million it needs to use or lose within a relatively short amount of time. The money was committed before we even know whether the farmers and landowners in the local watershed are interested in installing the kind of projects weíre talking about here on their property.

As it stands, funding comes without a real strategy for measuring the impact of the projects we invest in, in terms of water quality.

If weíre not careful, the process could become about spending the governmentís money, and not about caring for our environment in the best possible way.

Even if it mostly isnít our local skin in this game, the money is from taxpayers, so we do have a responsibility that it is used to best positive effect.

Honestly, if we are talking about earthmoving projects on farmland, that $2.5 million isnít going to go that far, if landowners do decide to get involved.

Whatever we do achieve by the time this program sunsets in September of 2021, we need to be ready to document the impact, measure the results, and share the gained knowledge widely.

It canít just be about doing something to show weíre doing something, to stave off future lawsuits like that of the Des Moines Water Works.

Building a few retention ponds to stall the runoff of rainwater or installing a handful of bioreactors to filter water for nitrates is an awesome start, but not nearly an ultimate fix for a river and its tributaries running through the northwest Iowa farmland.

In the longterm, its value would be to demonstrate what works and how well, how much it costs, and exactly what impact could be expected.

Thatís information this project could leave behind for the future, and the future is where real progress to heal and preserve our water bodies is going to have to happen.

It needs to be a beginning, not an ending.