Friday, May 23, 2008

Balance all three: Food, biofuels, conservation

This Guest Column by Matt Liebman appeared in the Des Moines Register on May 23, 2008.

The controversy erupting over food and biofuel production generally overlooks the critical need to conserve and protect soil, water and wildlife. When conservation is considered, the implicit message is often this: In a hungry world, or in a fuel-deficient world, we simply can't afford the luxury of forgoing crop production by idling land for conservation purposes.

But can we really afford to abandon conservation? More...

Matt Liebman is the Henry A. Wallace Endowed Chair for Sustainable Agriculture and a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Craig Cox to Join EWG in August

Craig Cox, SWCS Executive Director for the past ten years, will be joining the Environmental Working Group as Midwest Vice President and will establish a new regional office for that organization in Ames, Iowa later this year. The new EWG office will be the focal point of the organization’s work on food, agriculture and biofuels policy, with program staff in Iowa, Washington, DC and California. His last day with SWCS will be August 1st, 2008.

In an announcement letter to members and colleagues, SWCS President and West North Central Regional Director Peggy James wrote, "Craig is highly respected and has carried SWCS to the forefront of environmental issues. His leadership skills and professional reputation are unprecedented in the science of soil and water conservation. We face a challenge in finding someone to fill his shoes but also have an important opportunity to find an Executive Director who can lead the Society into the next decade."

"The Board of Directors and staff have worked hard over the past year to develop a handful of 3- to 5-year goals that we think will build SWCS’s capacity as a professional society and a leader in the conservation community. Although we hate to see Craig go, we are in a good position to tailor our search for a new Executive Director whose skills and experience will ensure we meet those goals," continued James.

“The ten years I have spent as your Executive Director has been the most rewarding and enjoyable years in my career in conservation,” Craig told the SWCS Board of Directors this week. “I’ve decided to leave because it is time for me to take on a new challenge and because I think the growing natural resource and environmental challenges we face require a type and intensity of advocacy that is just not appropriate for SWCS. Joining the Environmental Working Group will be the new challenge I am looking for and the perfect home for the kind of advocacy we need to advance the cause of soil and water conservation. I may be leaving as your Executive Director, but I will remain a dedicated member of SWCS.”

The Board of Directors is committed to perpetuating the excellent SWCS reputation established by Craig in his tenure in advancing the science and art of natural resource conservation. The Board has met to discuss and implement a framework for transition. The wheels have been set in motion to begin the search for a new Executive Director. We are dedicated to pursue our mission and consider the current and future needs of Society members.

EWG Link:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Farm Bill Vetoed by Bush

President George W. Bush vetoed the Farm Bill on May 21. Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and Chairman of the Senate-House conference committee on the new farm bill reacted strongly to Bush’s veto:

With all of these critical investments and reforms in this bill that have won support from both parties, from every region of the country, and from rural and urban members of Congress alike, the president’s veto of this measure is an attempt to deny America these forward-looking initiatives at a time when the country needs them the most.

The bill continues, reforms and strengthens income protection for the benefit of farm families and the rural economy. The nutrition title strengthens food assistance. The energy provisions in the farm bill will help unleash the potential of agriculture and rural communities to supply energy to our nation. And the new bill will help farmers and ranchers with funds and technical assistance to conserve soil, improve water quality and boost wildlife on their land.

The Farm Bill was Bush’s 10th veto during his presidency.

Nutrient Supplement Alters Cattle Distribution

The Journal of Soil and Water Conservation recently included information about how nutrient supplements placed strategically in livestock confinements can be used to preserve water quality. See George et al. 2008; Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 63(1):11-17.)

“Environmental impacts of grazing livestock are frequently the result of poor livestock distribution,” George wrote. Cattle tend to spend time in environmentally critical areas, like riparian zones. Instead of using physical barriers, like fencing, to dictate livestock movements, George and his colleagues used nutritional protein supplements to lure the cattle away from sensitive areas of pasture.

Global positioning collars were used to document the movements of the cattle before and after the supplements were placed. The supplements successfully motivated the cattle to move more than 0.8 mi away from stock water, and the cattle tended to rest and graze near the supplement as well. Currently, protein supplements are not considered a best management practice, but George believes that they should be.

“The strategic placement of protein supplements can exert a strong influence on the distribution of range livestock,” George wrote.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Declaration on Soils from the BOKU Vienna Workshop

The Austrian Academy of Sciences and BOKU – the University of Bodenkultur (Soil Conservation) sponsored the 2007 Kerner von Marilaun Workshop in Vienna, Austria, entitled, “The Challenge of Sustaining Soils: Lessons from Historical Experience for a Sustainable Future.”

The workshop produced a declaration on soils that states, “We are in the midst of a dramatic acceleration of agricultural change as the world strives to meet the food and energy needs of a growing population within the framework of resource limitations and the desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In its scope and size the challenge is comparable to the transformation of agriculture which took place as part of the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century and its extension by the introduction of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides during the twentieth century.”

The declaration goes on to state, “Human impacts on soils are complex and site specific; resulting in pressures on biodiversity, water availability and quality, and the atmosphere. Our rapidly increasing needs for food and energy place growing and conflicting demands on soil. Development issues, food security, nature conservation, our dependence on fossil fuels, social inequality, and armed conflict, all have a bearing on soils.”

The full declaration is available here:

Monday, May 12, 2008

Water Resource Photo Wins Contest

By Sarah VanDelfzijl
Last year, Michigan’s Battle Creek Clean Water Partners conducted a photo contest of subjects within the Kalamazoo River watershed. This effort was undertaken in part to fulfill Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit requirements. The photo contest helped educate the public about their watershed and the proximity of rivers and streams to the urban landscape.
The winning photo was taken by Richard Burkhart of Battle Creek, and his image was then submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency's National Earth Day photo contest, where it placed first in the “Enjoying Nature” category.
Burkhart commented, “On this spring day my wife and I were enjoying the environment and beauty of the Battle Creek River. I find it extremely interesting that this photo was taken within four blocks from the heart of Battle Creek, Michigan. Sometimes we can find true beauty and enjoy nature real close to home or in our own back yard.”
The photo serves as a reminder that urban rivers can be excellent recreational resources, provided that their surrounding communities make concerted efforts to improve and protect them.
Photo reproduced with permission by Richard Burkhart.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Farm Bill One Step Closer

US Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, announced on May 8, 2008, a final farm bill conference agreement with principal negotiators. A formal conference report will be prepared, and the bill will then be brought to the full Senate and House for approval.

The conference committee version of the bill has bipartisan support. However, the White House has threatened to veto the bill, to which Harkin comments, “Inexplicably, the White House seems intent on destroying the harvest just as the seeds are being planted.”

On conservation measures in the committee passed version of the bill, Harkin notes, “To meet soaring worldwide demand for food and energy crops, millions of new acres of land are being brought into production, including environmentally fragile land. To address this challenge, we authorize nearly $4.4 billion in additional funds for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program over the next 10 years. With this support, the Conservation Stewardship Program will enroll nearly 13 million acres each year.”

Role for Soils in Addressing Food Crisis

In a recent Associated Press article, Seth Borenstein writes that "Scientists say if they can get the world out of the economically triggered global food crisis, better dirt will be at the root of the solution."

Go here for the full story:

Giant Sinkhole Northeast of Huston, Texas

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Environmental Award Given for High School Water Quality Work

The stream team of Reeds Spring High School in Missouri received the President's Youth Environmental Award for the second time. Four stream team members traveled to the White House to receive the award. This is the first time that any school has earned the award twice.

Each of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s 10 regional offices annually selects a student between kindergarten through 12th grade to represent the region at the national awards ceremony in Washington, DC. To earn this privilege, the child must complete a project that helps protect the environment and teach others about conservation.

The stream team earned the award by researching and designing a project to analyze water quality. They collected samples and tested for fecal coliforms, pH, dissolved oxygen, ammonia, nitrates, phosphates, benthic macroinvertebrates, and clarity. Students prepared maps, graphs, and spreadsheets to demonstrate their results during presentations to help the community learn about protecting its streams. The results of the water testing were also sent to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Rain Garden Construction to Filter Water at Monmouth University

A rain garden will be built on the West Long Branch campus of Monmouth University to help filter pollutants and sediment from the water. Besides purification of the water, this garden will also help keep the athletic field clean.
A rain garden is “"is a simple garden that is dug deep into the earth in order to filter out pollutants from the water and soil," Monmouth University student Jamie Kinard explained. Plants selected for the garden will be native vegetation that normally grows near waterways.
The rain garden is being funded by grants and donations. It will be created by CommunityWaterWatch members and student volunteers.
"Not many schools have them," Kinard said. "Our garden is meant as a demonstrative rain garden to show people how easy it is to help the environment."

Upcoming SWCS Chapter Activities

GEORGIA: June 4 – 6
The annual meeting of the Georgia Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society is being planned jointly with the Georgia Section of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE). The meeting will be in Athens from 4-6 June 2008 under the theme “Meeting Together to Provide Solutions”. The meeting will comprise lecture sessions with optional poster sessions if there is an
overflow of lecture submissions. For more information contact: Gary Hawkins at Tel: 229-386-3914 or by Email: OR Jim Kastner
Tel: 706-583-0155 or

NEBRASKA: June 5-7, 2008
The Nebraska and Northeast Nebraska Chapters of the Soil & Water Conservation Society will be holding their annual state meeting in Holdrege, June 5-7, 2008. The meeting will focus on issues affecting central Nebraska, including water quantity, water conservation, and invasive species.

The first afternoon, presentations on invasive species will be held at the Nebraska Prairie Museum. Following dinner, a presentation on a nearby WWII POW camp will be made by museum staff, with plenty of time to view the museum exhibits. The second day will be at the Upper Room Restaurant, and will consist of water conservation topics, followed by a tour of invasive plant and water conservation projects. The annual SWCS banquet will be held that evening, followed by a chapter business meeting on Saturday. The registration deadline is May 22. The full agenda and registration form can be found at

If you'd like to add an activity to this list, please post it in the comments section.
Additionally, there is an events calender at

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Texas A&M University Makes Conservation a Priority

Despite steady growth, Texas A&M University has reduced its water and energy consumption. Since 1992, the university has decreased its total annual water consumption by 53%. Annual energy consumption has been reduced by 20% since 2003.

“Over the past decade, we have completely changed our way of thinking about water and energy efficiency,” says Jim Riley, Texas A&M director for utilities Jim. “Water and energy are precious resources, and even if they are available, we don’t want to use more than we have to.”

The energy and water reductions were achieved through both operational changes and improvements in the university’s facilities.

The reduction in energy use alone has reduced the university’s carbon footprint by 338 million pounds and saved the university approximately $50 million in energy costs.

To reduce water requirements, Texas A&M replaced plumbing fixtures with low-flow options, improved management of campus irrigation systems, and improved campus plumbing to minimize leaks and make them easier to fix.

Riley says, “With the new operational improvements, we do a much better job of preventing leaks, and when they do occur, we can isolate and repair them more promptly.”

The university also invites students to participate in its quest. The Office of Energy Management at Texas A&M includes an energy-saving tip in each day’s university e-mail news service. They also list energy tips on their Web site:

Students also help reduce energy consumption by competing in the “Residence Hall Energy Challenge” between campus residence halls to find out which hall could produce the largest utilities reductions.

Despite success, Texas A&M is not done with energy and water conservation. Officials hope to further improve water efficiency by reusing water from its wastewater treatment plant. Reusing this water for non-potable systems would decrease the amount of water that must be pumped from the ground.