Dear Mr. Griffin:
I intend to appear at today’s public hearing regarding the 4-in topsoil rule, but have commitments at work that will prevent me from appearing before 4 pm. In the meantime, please accept the following as my official comment as a private citizen regarding the proposed rule.
I am writing to support the department’s adoption of the top soil preservation provision as a part of the NPDES General Permit #2 as it relates to construction site management.
As you know, a spirited debate is underway in Iowa about various farm practices that are thought to contribute to declines in water quality, soil conservation, and land stewardship in our state. There are good people doing great work in rural Iowa to address these issues, but there is much yet to do. There have been some unfortunate characterizations made about motives and efforts of some ag interests that detracts from the progress accomplished and the journey yet begun.
That said, it is very unfortunate that opposition to the top soil preservation rule focuses on the costs to one industry, without also considering the benefits to all Iowans that such a rule will provide. It is inequitable on the one hand to demand that farmers undertake conservation measures on their lands to benefit themselves, landowners downstream, and the citizens of Iowa, and, on the other, exempt another industry from this responsibility especially when the results of poor land management are identical. In fact, opponents of this rule will be rewarded for undertaking destructive activities that undo conservation projects already in place on ag lands being converted to urban uses.
This conversion is happening at a rapid pace. According to my research of the USDA Census of Agriculture, over the past 25 years more than 1 million acres of farmland formerly in farms in Iowa are apparently no longer being used for farm uses. Some might argue those acres have flowed down the Mississippi River and are now deposited on the floor of the Caribbean. More likely, these lands have been converted to residential, commercial or public use. Nonetheless, this loss means fewer acres available to feed the world over the coming generations. If the soil remains partially intact under new development, perhaps some of these acres can be reclaimed in the future for ag uses.
It seems to me the first duty of any landowner in Iowa is to preserve our soil. Iowans have been blessed with soils of unbelievable fertility. Our soils are the envy of the world and comprise a limited resource for humanity that must not be squandered, wasted, degraded or discarded. And yet, a proposal to require replacement of just a fraction of the topsoil on a typical Iowa construction site — with all of the benefits such as rule obtains for water retention, fertility for garden and ornamental plants, water quality of runoff — is seen as too heavy handed, too expensive, and too much of a threat to personal liberty as to outweigh the natural and global benefit — and I daresay the moral imperative – of replacing a hand width depth of disturbed soil. This is desecration of the worst sort and will be rightly condemned by future generations.
Your department has proposed a reasonable, if somewhat timid, requirement that is in the best interests of Iowans. I urge your department to adopt the rule as written and explore additional regulatory remedies to ensure that Iowa’s soil is not treated like dirt to be scraped off and sold by the ton.