School and Public Lands Commissioner Jarrod Johnson recognizes how the federal crop insurance program (which crop insurance salesman's wife Kristi Noem wants to expand) causes farmers to plow up land that's better for other uses than crops.
Now South Dakota State University professor Carol Johnston provides data on just how much of our wetlands we've been sacrificing to cropland:
Comparing wetlands mapped 30 years ago with those areas in 2011, she documented a yearly loss of nearly 13,000 acres of wetlands. Considering only the changes in the last decade, those losses increased to 15,377 acres per year.
The 2012 data came out this spring and, Johnston said, “the rate just keeps going up” ["SDSU Scientist Documents Wetland Losses," South Dakota State University, 2013.05.24].
Johnston estimates that South Dakotanis losing 21 acres of wetlands and 73 acres of grasslands per hour. But why should you care if we're tiling and draining mushy ground and planting corn and beans instead?
“Wetlands are called the kidneys of the landscape,” Johnston said. The soil microbes in wetlands convert nitrate, a form of nitrogen dissolved in the water, into harmless nitrogen gas. Nitrates can pollute well water, making it unfit to drink. Without the filtering effects of wetlands, these nitrates can also encourage the growth of algae. When these algae decompose, they decrease the oxygen available for fish and other aquatic organisms.
Wetlands help recharge groundwater supplies in many places, Johnston explained. Because these shallow reservoirs hold excess water, they can also reduce flooding downstream. Johnston cited an instance in which wetlands along the Charles River in Massachusetts were bought and maintained specifically for the purpose of reducing floods in the city of Boston [SDSU, 2013.05.24].
Folks who want me to build a $6.4-million sewer system to reduce pollution in Lake Herman are going to have a hard time competing with the billions more Kristi Noem wants to pour into crop insurance, which will help pour more nitrates into our lakes and help the algae bloom brighter and greener and stinkier. Folks who like drinking water rather than wading through it might also want to take a look at the farm bill and ask if it is as good for our kidneys—our wetlands—as it is for expanding industrial agriculture.
p.s.: The pending farm bill links crop insurance to conservation measures, but it also reduces the acreage that can be enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program from 30 million acres to 25 million acres.12 comments