Commentary: Government money needed for watersheds

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Government money to agriculture via Soil and Water Conservation Districts makes a lot of sense to me. I remember growing up in Southeast Iowa, and dad worked with the SWCD of the time and was able to have a farm pond built. That pond contributed to stopping runoff and filled a large gully.

That soil conservation work wouldn’t have been done without government money being involved. Dad didn’t have spare money as he was a small farmer scrimping by with a small dairy herd, a second job with the Iowa Highway Commission and saving for my college fund.

That pond helped to keep Cedar Creek cleaner, and today farmers working with SWCDs are continuing to clean up creeks of the nation. And it still depends on subsidy, grant money from the U.S. government.

With all the concern about the environment, conservation funds are still extremely important. An example was written about by Zoe Martin in the Iowa Farmer Today. He wrote about the Muchakinock Creek watershed project where 100 area farmers over eight years and counting have been cleaning up the creek.

“Soil erosion, water quality and flooding were the top resource concerns in Muchakinock Creek watershed,” Kevin Funni, NRCS district conservationist, is reported as saying.

“Sediment as a pollutant was deemed the primary reason for impaired use by aquatic life in the stream,” and the justification for obtaining grant money for clean up starting in 2005.

Martin reported that Mahaska County farmer Jerry Bruxvoort jumped in early with the government project. Soil conservation had been a goal of Bruxvoort since he took over the family farm in the 60s.

“When my father lived here, I remember there were some ditches you couldn’t cross hardly. That wasn’t good,” Bruxvoort said.

Muchakinock watershed drains more than 49,000 acres. The watershed is about 23 miles long and varies from two to five miles wide. In that area, the project’s funding has helped about 100 landowners along the watershed build more than 180,000 feet of terraces, grade-stabilization structures and ponds.

Funni reportedly claims these practices have prevented nearly 10,000 tons of sediment per year from entering the stream. The project is to end in June 2014 although Funni is planning to file for extension of the project. The grant money has paid 50 percent of costs, up to $4,000, for each farmer project, Martin wrote, and each farmer has been able to complete multiple projects.

Any time that money is attached to the government, some farmers hesitate because they don’t want to be told how to do something or what not to do on their property. Farmers who used grants with the watershed project worked with project-appointed technicians to build the terraces or structures on their land.

My thoughts are that using government money and farmer money together achieves a lot in needed soil conservation and water quality. Without that pool of money being dangled in front of farmers, most of them don’t get involved in understanding their fit in the whole picture of water and environmental quality for a watershed in Iowa or the entire nation.

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