Clean water is one of those basics in life, like clean air to breathe. We need to be able to open the tap and safely drink the water. We need to support local infrastructure and must drastically reduce the amounts of fertilizer and pesticides flowing into our waterways.
Support local infrastructure: Good water treatment plants reduce the amounts of objectionable elements to levels considerably lower than those deemed safe. The price you pay per 1,000 gallons of clean water in, for example, Iowa City, which invested $65 million in its water treatment plant, is .30. Yes, 30 cents. Yet people continue to buy water in one-way plastic bottles – the equivalent in water bottles is $30,000 for 1,000 gallons. Let’s not make Coke (Dasani) and Pepsi (Aquafina) any richer than they already are. Let’s use tap water, thereby putting money into local infrastructure and reducing the avalanche of one-way plastic bottles that will never be biodegradable. We can put some of those funds to use to create, for example, county or regional funds to help smaller municipalities upgrade their water treatment plants. Ultimately this will save us money, bring us clean water, help the environment, and crucially, help our smaller, more rural communities with infrastructure.
Reduce fertilizer and pesticide use: When applied directly to a plant, the amount of fertilizer needed per acre is a mere 5-10 lbs./acre, whereas as much as 200-300 lbs./acre is spread today. The spreader does not “know” where the plants are, with the result that the bulk of the fertilizer gets washed into the watersheds. Precision farming is coming – the ability to ensure that only the plants get the fertilizer. I suggest taxing the fertilizer and pesticide companies and using that tax to fund watershed pollution monitoring. We need to reduce their use. Alternative crops that can help replenish the land and/or organic farming require a longer time horizon and money – but produce excellent alternatives that can, in few years, earn top dollars per acre, and greatly reduce water pollution.
Bring back wetlands: Wetlands busting efforts years ago increased the amount of land available for farming, but robbed us of nature’s natural water purifiers. They are the most economical way to remove nitrogen from the water. Bringing back those wetlands is not cheap, but it is a necessary and natural solution. And yes, we also need plant buffers.
Place a moratorium on new CAFOs: The run-off from CAFOs affects water quality, and they affect the air we breathe. The Master Matrix is broken – when 97 percent of applications are approved, including in sensitive areas, it needs to be revised and reformed. Local governments such as county supervisors must have a say. They know their counties and their constituents. They also know what can happen to property values. We need a moratorium on new CAFOs until a solution is found.