Dennis Anderson: Awash in water and politics

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 29, 2014 - 12:23 AM

When rivers and lakes cross banks and wash poisons to land, the federal farm program’s weaknesses show.

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The Minnesota River has flooded many areas of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, shown here north of Jordan. The main Minnesota River channel is at top left.

Photo: BRIAN PETERSON • BRIAN.peterson@startribune.com,

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President Obama’s visit to the Twin Cities last week and his speech about jobs, the economy and the fecklessness of Washington politics was good theater played before an audience eager to hear that someone, somewhere has things figured out.

OK, maybe not everything. Obviously the Mideast is beyond fixing. Kids are pouring into Texas from Guatemala. And the Twins need a hitter who can punch the ball through the infield with a guy on second. None of this will be resolved anytime soon, we know that. But hey, if we play by the rules, work hard and hang in there, life will get better.

Or so we can hope.

Which in part was what the president was selling: hope. As he should. That’s his job.

In doing so, he suggested that personal responsibility, self-sufficiency and grittiness have made America great. And if we adhere to these ideals we can make the nation even better, while improving our personal lots.

Enter now the “but.’’

But these qualities can take people only so far if the deck is stacked against them. Women, for example, make less money then men for comparable work. And too many people are stuck in dead-end jobs that don’t pay living wages.

Both are unfortunate, everyone agrees, and both could be solved, or at least seriously addressed, the president said, save for the stranglehold that internecine politics have on the Capitol.

Still, hope floats.

Or does it?

As the president said: Not if the deck is stacked against you.

Conservation-minded Americans know the feeling.

Yes, paying off school loans, getting a job and buying a home are challenging problems. But these can be overcome, as the president suggested, with a little luck and a lot of pluck.

But chances are slim, no matter how educated people are or how hard they work, that they’ll ever enjoy the same quality of American natural resources their parents did, or their parents before them and those born earlier still.

The nation’s federal farm program and its poisonous effects on water, soil, wildlife — and us — is one big reason, a living laboratory of which is on display right here, right now, throughout flooded Minnesota.

Also foretelling gloom, if not doom, in Minnesota are the see-no-evil politics that ensure noncompliance of state laws requiring farmland rivers to be buffered to minimize stream bank sloughing and soil and ag-chemical runoff.

Unenforced here as well are state laws that prohibit farmers from planting corn and soybeans in public roadsides, which, sad to say, represent some of Minnesota’s last, best places for pheasants, songbirds and other critters to nest.

Why no enforcement?

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