Last week Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson kicked off a #UniteIowa campaign, a documented crusade to find and encourage common ground between rural and urban Iowans.
He started with a trip to Orange City, to create dialogue between Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe (who’s suing three northwest Iowa counties for their alleged contributions to Des Moines’ water quality), Randy Feenstra (a rural state representative and a vocal opponent of the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit), and northwest Iowans.
The arranged meeting produced a nice, cordial discussion.
Unfortunately, it didn’t create what rural and urban Iowans need most – meaningful action.
Yes, dialogue has the potential to spark action. But, as Munson acknowledges, Stowe is committed to suing his neighbors in northwest Iowa, so (realistically) sound bites were the only possible outcome.
And that’s a shame because there are lots of examples involving Iowa farmers, rural communities, cities, and local groups working together to make strides in improving water quality.
No doubt, #UniteIowa is a worthy cause. Roughly one in five Iowans are employed by agriculture, so Munson is correct in saying that rural and urban lives (and interests) are still closely intertwined.
The key is spotlighting and encouraging rural and urban Iowans who demonstrate, through their actions, that they share the mission to #UniteIowa .
Here are a few places to start:
1. Cedar Rapids
Leaders in Iowa’s second largest city, from the mayor to the city utilities director, are working together with farmers, landowners and other partners to install practices and pursue technologies to improve water quality in the area.
2. Rathbun Lake
Partnerships produce results. Just ask the residents of south central Iowa. Working together, farmers, land owners, and water treatment officials are protecting Rathbun Lake from 42,000 tons of sentiment and 179,000 lbs. of phosphorus annually.
3. Hewitt Creek
A group of 70 farmers and other participants in northeast Iowa have teamed up to protect the Hewitt Creek watershed for more than a decade. The results can be quantified by numbers (sampling is conducted monthly and after half-inch rainfails) and by wildlife activity (eagles have returned to fish in the stream).
Meetings between city officials, farmers, and other nearby landowners produced a plan to use cover crops to protect the city’s municipal wells.
5. Sioux Center
Just a few short miles from Munson’s first stop on the #UniteIowa tour, farmer Matt Schuiteman and Dordt College have partnered on a variety in-field practices to help protect Sioux Center’s drinking water.
6. The 95 local governments and groups partnering on 16 watershed protection projects around Iowa
The divide between rural and urban Iowans (whether political, economic, cultural, or otherwise) has been well explored (and in many cases, embellished). While the Register points to the friction created by the Water Works lawsuit to demonstrate that the “gulf” between rural and urban is widening, the number of recently formed urban and rural partnerships to address clean water suggests that (at least in some ways) the gap is shrinking. Some Des Moines leaders may be experiencing problems working with their rural neighbors, but rural and urban stakeholders around the rest of the state are going about the business of addressing water quality together.
Learn more about ongoing rural and urban collaboration to protect Iowa’s water at www.conservationcountsiowa.com