Tag Archives: soil conservation district

Will ‘Big Muddy Blues’ be played for the St. Croix, too?

April 7, 2009

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“Big Muddy Blues: True tales and twisted politics along Lewis and Clark’s Missouri River,”

by Bill Lambrecht

With the St. Croix being designated one of America’s top 10 most endangered rivers this week, folks who enjoy that luscious stream of water that separates some of eastern Minnesota from a chunk of western Wisconsin might want to pick up “Big Muddy Blues” and learn a few lessons.

Lessons about how the concerns of any number of people who care about and depend on a waterway can be at the mercy of political ambitions and organizations with clout.

Newspaperman Bill Lambrecht in a sense recreated much of the 1802-04 journey of discovery of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition, taking readers along the Missouri from near St. Louis up to the trout fishing haven in Montana where the river forms from three tributaries.

Lambrecht shows how the river has changed in the past 200 years — and why. Much of the why falls on the shoulders of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the political maneuvering that led to the building of dams and dikes, of rerouting the Missouri from its natural course to ease barge traffic, of favoring the water needs of the lower river at the expense of native peoples and fishing interests in the Dakotas, among others.

Lack of enforcement of federal regulations — an issue that needs to be addressed along the St. Croix today — plays a role as well, but the biggest sin “Big Muddy Blues” points out may be our government’s disregard for scientific findings. Research doesn’t seem to hold much water — pardon the pun — if it means a member of Congress might lose a vote or two. And the empire that the Army Corps of Engineers has built for itself plays right along with the selfish politicians who can’t look past the next election to see how the research they are ignoring affects real people and endangered species, even going to the point of getting researchers transferred to other parts of the country!

“Big Muddy Blues” was published in 2005 under the Thomas Dunne Books imprint of St. Martin’s Press. It’s worth finding today, before more dirty water goes over the dams. — bz

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Dust Bowl history makes sad era a reality show

March 10, 2008

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“The Worst Hard Time,”
by Timothy Egan

You may have seen photos of the Dust Bowl, but read Timothy Egan’s comprehensive history and you can taste the dirt and feel the wind blast against your skin.

Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl,” paints such a vivid portrait of those 1930s years of dry, violent storms that you’ll find yourself coughing and swallowing hard just imagining what it must have been like when nature punished farmers for turning millions of acres of grassland into billowing towers of dust, dirt and sand.

Imagine how hard times must have been that people in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and southwestern Colorado would be driven to eat pickled tumbleweed to survive.

Imagine going three years without a paycheck.

Imagine your small town newspaper editor describing as “sissies” those who — after losing all the top soil from their land, not having anything to feed their cattle, watching their children, spouses and relatives die from “dust pneumonia” — didn’t have the “courage” to stick out the hard times.

Through interviews with people who lived through the 1930s in the Dust Bowl counties and terrific research, including amazing diary entries from a farmer who lost everything, Egan helps his readers know this little-known era of American history.

It’s a dense work, filled with information, especially information about real people – how they felt, how they cried, how they survived.

It’s an honest history, too, one not afraid to acknowledge both the failed recovery programs of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration and the conservation-minded ones that began to work to revive the land in places.

Whether or not you believe that the planet faces climate change today, this is a book that should help everyone understand how connected humanity is to the soil. The consequences of not valuing the soil result in tragedies like the Dust Bowl — something no one who reads this book would ever want to go through. — bz

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