Des Moines Register. April 22, 2021.

Editorial: Manure from ag operations ruins waterways. When will Iowans get their fill of filthy water?

If a toddler’s diaper leaks at a public swimming pool, parents get their kids out of the water. Teenagers gag. Lifeguards recognize there’s a problem and respond by skimming, treating or even draining the water.

Contrast that with Iowa’s natural waterways, which are awash in animal manure, harmful chemicals from pesticides and other pollutants, mainly from farm field runoff. Visitors are apparently expected to just swim, fish, boat and recreate in them with a smile and a plugged nose. The contamination is even referred to as “nutrients,” a term that leaves the impression there is something healthful about it. And elected authorities do not take the problem seriously.

Iowa’s strategy has long been to trust farmers to do the right thing when it comes to reducing agricultural pollution of waterways. But the state’s voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy, adopted in 2013, hasn’t changed things. There is no reason to think that the missing ingredient is more time.

The latest reminder is a report from American Rivers, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental advocacy nonprofit, which each year identifies the 10 most endangered waterways in the nation. This year the Raccoon River, which serves as a drinking water supply for more than 500,000 people in Des Moines, landed in ninth place on the list.

The group says waste from about 750 animal feeding operations in the river’s watershed “is spread on fields, often at rates that exceed the soil’s ability to absorb it.” The remaining manure runs into our waterways.

The ground can soak up only so much excrement. The question now: When are Iowans going to get their fill of it and demand changes?

The people of this state do not have to accept fishing in stinky streams, rafting down polluted rivers and contributing to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, where excessive algae blooms deplete underwater oxygen levels. We should not have to fork over loads of money to clean our drinking water of nitrates that may increase the risk of ovarian, thyroid, kidney and bladder cancers. And we should not tolerate the collective shrug we too often get from state leaders.

Iowa’s agriculture secretary, Mike Naig, called the American Rivers report “a bit of propaganda” during a recent recording of Iowa PBS’ “Iowa Press.”

Then he added that familiar, well, propaganda about water quality that many of us have heard from politicians for as long as we can remember: “We are moving in the right direction.”

That is false.

When it comes to nitrogen in waterways, things have continued to get worse statewide for the past two decades, said Chris Jones, a research engineer at the University of Iowa’s IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, originally named the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research. “The situation with the Raccoon River would be similar.”

For a voluntary nutrient reduction strategy to work, you need volunteers. Having only 4% of Iowa land in cover crops after eight years “is a kick in the crotch, let’s just be honest,” according to Jones.

An editorial writer asked him what Iowa should do. He outlined five ideas he said would be minimally disruptive to farmers and free to taxpayers:

Ban row crops in the two-year flood plain where fertilizers and pesticides are washed into waterways every other year.

Ban fall tillage, which increases soil erosion and nutrient loss and is not necessary for growing corn and soybeans.

Ban manure on snow and frozen ground. Existing rules about this are too weak, and the practice is “great for smelly snowball fights, really bad for our rivers,” Jones said.

Require farmers to adhere to Iowa State University’s fertilizer guidelines, which were put in place to prevent over-application but are not followed by many farmers.

Reformulate regulations for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Hogs in confinements generate waste that must go somewhere.

“The reason we don’t do these things isn’t because they won’t work,” Jones wrote in a recent blog post. “It’s because there are a lot of cowards when it comes to Iowa water quality.”

That cowardice prevents politicians from imposing mandates on the agriculture industry. It prompts them to funnel more and more money to farmers to try to encourage responsible environmental practices.

And it is turning Iowa waterways into toilets.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. April 25, 2021.

Editorial: Dumping driver’s education would make Iowa roads less safe

A bill under consideration in the Iowa Legislature regarding driver’s education instruction would create more problems than it would solve.

There are lots of things about which Mom and Dad know best. Driving might or might not be one of them.

Yet Senate File 546 would eliminate the requirement that students receive driving instruction from a certified professional before procuring a license to drive. Instead, the measure, which has already passed the Iowa House of Representatives, shifts the role of instructor to parents, all but eliminating the need for driver’s education.

When it comes to teen drivers, here’s something we can all agree on: Safety should be the top priority. We need to keep students safe as they are learning and develop safe drivers for the long term. Parents as the sole instructors would not be the best way to accomplish that.

Currently, state law requires anyone younger than 18 to take a 30-hour driver’s education course approved by the Iowa Department of Transportation and complete at least 20 hours of driving practice with a parent or instructor.

Driver’s ed teachers say in households with two working parents, it’s not uncommon for the family to struggle to complete even 20 hours of drive-time instruction. Now, that requirement would be upped to 30 hours — not to mention all of the rules of the road, signage and other instruction that come with the classroom work.

And who will deem a teen qualified to receive a license — his or her parent? Gee, what could go wrong?

The parent-as-teacher option is already allowed under state law for families that homeschool, and it was homeschool parent Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, who sponsored the legislation. Fry said it was something that arose during the pandemic when riding in cars with others posed a health risk.

While a change might have seemed more palatable during the pandemic, it’s hard to imagine that a shift to solely parental instruction is a move toward producing safer drivers.

In fact, it seems like it has a greater potential to do just the opposite. Let’s face it, not all parents are great drivers.

Some lawmakers supported the measure because of the expense of driver’s education, which can cost $350 for a student. But materials for parents to teach a similar curriculum would cost upwards of $100 in addition to the hours of time required to teach a teenager everything from parallel parking to changing a flat tire.

Additionally, certified instructors often use vehicles equipped with an emergency brake on the passenger side — a safety measure and something that parents wouldn’t be likely to pay to install.

If the cost is the primary motivating factor, legislation potentially capping that seems more appropriate than eliminating a teen’s time with a driving expert.

Current law mandates a specific period of time be spent on certain subject matter — such as substance abuse and impaired driving. For parents, there would be no such time allotments specified. And if Mom just knows that little Piper or Simon would never touch alcohol, well then why spend much time talking about it?

Young drivers have never faced such risks of distraction as today’s temptation to sneak a glance at an ever-present phone. And they are scarcely aware of how quickly something tragic can happen behind the wheel. Why would we strip away the conditions put in place to help ensure continuity in the manner in which kids learn safe driving practices?

This is hardly a change Iowans are clamoring for, and it would most assuredly result in decreased proficiency among young drivers. Iowa should put the brakes to this legislation.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. April 24, 2021.

Editorial: Iowa Central improvises for memorable ceremony. Pandemic prompted a virtual graduation

A college commencement ceremony is a time for graduating students to say goodbye to their school days and hello to their futures, surrounded by their friends and families. Those few hours in caps and gowns create cherished memories that last for a lifetime.

But what if a graduation ceremony just isn’t possible because of circumstances that are completely beyond the control of any student, professor or college administrator?

That was the situation the Iowa Central Community College class of 2021 found itself in. The class was ending its community college career as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, and the social distancing guidelines necessary to combat the virus made a traditional in-person graduation inadvisable if not impossible.

However, the college’s administration, faculty and staff was not about to let the class of 2021 go without some kind of celebration of its accomplishments. Simply mailing the diplomas to the graduates was not an option.

So to honor the graduates, a virtual graduation was developed, and it premiered on the college’s website Thursday evening. It had all the elements of a traditional graduation: music, speeches, and graduates in caps and gowns. But none of the participants were on the campus that evening.

The speeches and music were all recorded earlier. The graduates were photographed in their caps and gowns weeks earlier. The college’s radio and TV production department crafted all of that into one program.

A total of 592 graduates participated.

The leadership of the college went above and beyond to create a meaningful and memorable graduation ceremony in unprecedented circumstances. The team did have some experience from the 2020 virtual graduation to rely on as they planned this year’s event.

The result was something that the class of 2021 will remember for a lifetime.

END