Figure 7: Pollution Pipeline

Water cutting gullies into unprotected fields carries mud, fertilizers, pesticides and sometimes bacteria. As in these photos, many gullies empty directly into streams or ditches, becoming direct pipelines carrying polluted runoff to waterways. Polluted runoff from crop fields is the single most important source of water pollution in Iowa and the nation.

Figure 8: Fields in Streams

These photos show plowing and planting right next to ditches and streams, greatly increasing the chances that mud, farm chemicals and bacteria will end up in waterways. Crops and soil carrying fertilizers and chemicals end up falling directly right into the stream. Scenes like these are troublingly common.

Figure 9: Gullies Visible in Most Crop Fields

Map overlay of gullies that are not connected to waterways.
Map overlay of gullies that are connected and polluting waterways.
Map overlay of waterways.
Base map of fields, waterways and washed out gullies.
This April 2009 aerial image makes clear that what EWG researchers saw in 2010 was not unusual. The faint outlines of gullies, like those highlighted in red on the photo, are etched visibly into most crop fields. Highlighted in blue are a few waterways that have been seeded to grasses, a highly effective practice that heals gullies and protects waterways. Rather than using such methods, however, many farmers fill in these gullies every year, only to have them erode again during the next storm. The repeated filling and reforming of gullies sends a steady stream of mud and polluted runoff to streams and rivers.
One Large “Construction Site”

Every spring in Iowa, we create the equivalent of a 20-million-plus-acre construction site with soils highly vulnerable to being washed away. It is common to see erosion’s ugly scars on the state’s farm fields—deep rills and gullies several feet deep after a 3-to-4 inch rain.

Over the last hundred years, Iowa has lost a significant portion of its most important treasure, the gift of excellent soil — the miracle that sustains us. Four inches of rain over two days is normal for our region of the world, but severe soil erosion caused by your basic spring showers is not.

We say we love America, but we are eroding its flesh and desecrating its waters by overt and careless acts. In spite of all the talk about conservation and stewardship, the obvious scenes of soil loss and evidence of polluted streams speak for themselves. By not doing our best to protect our soil and water, we in effect dishonor America and those before us who sacrificed so much. As Wendell Berry asked, to what extent do we defend against foreign enemies a country that we are ourselves destroying?

I admire farmers who practice long crop rotations, protecting the soils with deep-rooted crops, using few or no pesticides, and apply all other practices that enhance soil and water quality. If only our policymakers would structure markets and create public policies that encourage soil and water stewardship.

Kamyar Enshayan, Director,

Center for Energy & Environmental Education,

University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls

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