Thursday, December 01, 2011

Julene Bair in New York Times: Biggest threat to Ogallala Aquifer is corn farming, not XL pipeline

Julene Bair
Essayist Julene Bair moved away from southeast Wyoming a few years back. We still miss you, Julene!

Her words resonate, no matter where she plants herself. She grew up a farmer’s daughter in Kansas. She’s spent most of her writing life exploring that legacy, most notably in “One Degree West: Confessions of a Plainsdaughter,” which won the Willa Award from Women Writing the West. She’s won creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Wyoming Arts Council.

Julene, now living in Longmont, Colo., penned an essay for yesterday’s New York Times. The topic is a timely one – the Keystone XL pipeline. Opponents contended that any leak from the pipeline would permanently contaminate the land and water in the sensitive Nebraska Sand Hills. The Ogallala Aquifer rests beneath the sand hills and 174,000 square miles of crop and range land from South Dakota to Texas. Problem is, chemicals used for corn growing have already polluted the aquifer. In the essay, “Running Dry on the Great Plains,” Julene makes a plea for a saner dry-land farming policy:
Why haven’t viable environmental groups formed to protect the Ogallala? Because corn contributes so much to the economy that its reign is seldom questioned. Federal subsidy payments to corn growers and the federal mandate to produce ethanol underwrite the waste and pollution.

These subsidies should end. When the farm bill comes up for reauthorization next year, Congress should instead pay farmers to reduce their dependence on irrigation and chemicals. The eastern Nebraska climate is moist enough to grow corn without irrigation. That is how the University of Nebraska football team came to be the Cornhuskers. And the more arid High Plains to the west are known as the nation’s breadbasket because wheat, a drought-tolerant crop, thrives there.
Read the rest at

Julene’s bog: or find her work on Facebook at

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