Iowa Public Television


Water Woes: Cafos, Foreign Fish, Lack of Rain

posted on October 5, 2001

While events of past weeks have hidden the issues from view, water quality, use, and management remains a huge concern in Rural America.

Drought in the West is provoking questions about the government's management of water and its interpretation of laws governing endangered species.

In the south the issue is not water availability, but rather geo-politics. American Catfish producers are feeling the squeeze of foreign competition.

Meanwhile in other parts of Rural America water quality is being threatened by livestock operations, even those that meet legal standards.


Runoff from manure application which was within guidelines caused a fish kill this week in southwest Iowa. The spill is evidence of a broader challenge facing large-scale, animal feeding operations and government environmental regulators. While management plans often work on paper, other factors, such as soil type and wetness can cause manure applications to runoff rather than soak into the soil. Such is the case in Iowa where state law allows manure management plans to vary the application rate of the fluid from lagoons based on the concentration of nitrogen.

Environmental groups see events such as fish kills as part of a more general nutrient pollution problem. The groups claim agriculture contributes one-third of all pollution to U-S bays and estuaries.

(slug: fish)

In the South, where water supports catfish, growers are engaged in a battle over market share. Recently released statistics show domestic catfish producers have lost 20% of their $500 million dollar market to Vietnamese farmers.

U.S. producers claim the imported fish are cheap and low quality. They further charge Vietnamese producers are deceptively labeling their packages with logos that imitate domestic brands. U.S. importers maintain Southern producers are the cause of their own problem blaming poor promotion, over pricing and the fact that the sales territory is limited to just a few states.

In an effort to slow the takeover by foreign producers catfish-state congressmen have introduced legislation asking for "country of origin" labeling.

(slug water flow)

And Farmers in Oregon's Klamath Basin are hoping for some monetary relief in the wake of this year's drought. Senators from Oregon and California are asking for $126 million in bailout funds.

Normally, producers would irrigate their fields with water from Lake Klamath, but this year water levels dropped low enough to put salmon and white suckerfish in peril. When the water was cut-off most crops in the Basin failed and farmers protested. In response the federal government offered to buy-out affected farmers.

Even with the desperate situation lawmakers are not hopeful their request will be granted.

The Interior Department has agreed to let outside experts examine the issue of how the government determines water cut-offs. Scientists from the National Academy of Sciences will research whether the government's termination of Klamath irrigation water to protect endangered species was warranted.

Meanwhile deftly tucked into the House version of the farm bill is a provision that defines a "catfish" as the species now raised by American catfish producers rather than the fish variety produced by the Vietnamese competition.

Tags: agriculture crops drought fish manure news rain water weather