The Water Bill before Congress

Typical of politics, if you want the cream, you have to eat the e. coli too. In this case it is the Water Bill before Congress.
The following is an extract from Eat Here by Brian Halweil.
pg.25
Probably very few people have had an opportunity to hear both pitches (for the widening of the locks on the Mississippi and the La Plata in South America) and compare them. But anyone who has may find something amiss with the argument that U.S. farmers will become more competitive with their Brazilian counterparts, at the same time that Brazilian farmers will, for the same reasons, become more competitive with their U.S. counterparts. A more likely outcome is that farmers of these two nations will be pitted against each other in a costly race to maximize production, resulting in short-cut practices that essentially stripmine their soil and throw long-term investments in the land to the wind. Farmers in Iowa will have stronger incentives to plow up land along stream banks, triggering faster erosion of topsoil. Their brethren in Brazil will find themselves needing to cut deeper into the savanna, also accelerating erosion. That will increase the flow of soybeans, all right‹both north_and south. But it will also further depress prices, so that even as the farmers ship more, they will get less income per ton. And in any case, increasing volume can't help the farmers survive in the_long run, because sooner or later they will be swallowed by larger, corporate, farms that can make up for the smaller per-ton margins by producing even larger volumes. So how can the supporters of these river projects, who profess to be acting in the farmer's best interests, not notice the illogic of this form of competition? One explanation is that from the advocates' (as opposed to the farmers') standpoint, this competition isn't illogical at all‹because the lobbyists aren't really representing_farmers. They're working for the commodity processing, ship-_ping, and trading firms who want the price of soybeans to fall, because these are the firms that buy the crops from the farmers. In fact, it is the same three agribusiness conglomerates‹Archer_Daniels Midland, Cargill, and Bunge‹that are the top soybean processors and traders along both rivers. Welcome to the global economy. The more brutally the U.S. and Brazilian farmers can batter each other's prices (and standards of living) down, the greater is the margin of profit for these three giants. Meanwhile, another handful of companies controls the markets for genetically modified seeds, fertilizers, and herbicides used by the farmers‹charging oligopolistically high prices both_north and south of the equator. In assessing what this proposed_digging-up and reconfiguring of two of the world's great river basins really means, keep in mind that these projects will not be the activities of private businesses operating inside their own private property. These are proposed public works, to be undertaken at huge public expense. The motive is neither the plight of the family farmer nor any moral obligation to feed the world, but the opportunity to exploit poorly informed public sentiments about "farmers' plights" or "hungry masses" as a means of usurping public policies to benefit private interests. What gets thoroughly Big Muddied, in this usurping process, is that in addition to subjecting_farmers to a gladiator-like attrition, these projects will likely trig-_ger a cascade of damaging economic, social, and ecological impacts within the very river basins being so expensively remodeled. What's likely to happen if the lock and dam system along the Mississippi is expanded as proposed? The most obvious effect will be increased barge traffic, which will accelerate a less obvious cascade of events that has been under way for some time, accord ing to Mike Davis of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Much of the Mississippi River ecosystem involves aquatic rooted plants, like bullrush, arrowhead, and wild celery. Increased barge traffic will kick up more sediment, blocking sunlight and reducing the depth to which plants can survive. Already, since the 1970s, the number of aquatic plant species found in some stretches of the river has been cut from 23 to about half that, with just a handful thriving under the cloudier conditions. "Areas of the river have reached an ecological turning point," warns Davis. "This decline in plant diversity has triggered a drop in the invertebrate communities that live on these plants, as well as a drop in the fish, mollusk, and bird communities that depend on the diversity of insects and plants." A 2002 report from the Fish and Wildlife Service said that the Corps of Engineers project would threaten the 300 species of migratory birds and 127 species offish in the Mississippi river, and could ultimately push some into extinction. "The least tern, the pallid sturgeon, and other species that evolved with the ebbs and flows, sandbars and depths, of the river are progressively eliminated or forced away as the diversity» of the river's natural habitats is removed to maximize the barge habitat," says Davis.
The outlook for the Hidrovia project is similar. Mark Robbins, an ornithologist at the Natural History Museum at the Uni versity of Kansas, calls it "a key step in creating a Florida Everglades-like scenario of destruction in the Pantanal, and an American Great Plains like scenario in the Cerrado in southern Brazil." The Paraguay-Parana feeds the Pantanal wetlands, one of the most diverse habitats on the planet, with its populations of woodstorks, snailkites, limpkins, jabirus, and more than 650 other species of birds, as well as more than 400 species of fish and hundreds of other less studied plants, mussels, and marsh land organisms. As the river is dredged and the banks are built up to funnel the surrounding wetlands water into the navigation path, bird nesting habitat and fish spawning grounds will be eliminated, depriving the indigenous societies that depend_on these resources. Increased barge traffic will suppress river species here just as it will on the Mississippi. Meanwhile, herbicide-intensive soybean monocultures on farms so enormous that they dwarf even the biggest operations in the U.S. Midwest are rapidly replacing diverse grasslands in the frag-_ile Cerrado. The heavy plowing and periodic absence of ground cover associated with such farming erodes 100 million tonnes of soil per year. Robbins notes that "compared to the Mississippi, this southern river system and surrounding grassland is several orders of magnitude more diverse and has suffered considerably less, so there is much more at stake."
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