Retiring researcher writes book on water quality in Iowa

IOWA CITY — A scientist who’s monitored Iowa’s water quality in the public and private sectors for 36 years is retiring this week, while also publishing a book about what he says are the reasons our waterways are dying.

Chris Jones has run the state’s largest water sensor system at the University of Iowa’s Institute of Hydraulic Research the past eight years. Jones says we need common-sense regulation of corn and soybean production with regard to its environmental outcomes.  “We ask the taxpayer to mitigate the pollution from the system while at the same time giving farmers and the industry at large license to do whatever they want on the field,” Jones says. “You know, this is just not going to work. It’s a perverse approach to it.”

In his book, “The Swine Republic: Struggles with the Truth about Agriculture and Water Quality,” Jones says Iowa has devoted the equivalent of 20 counties solely to growing corn that’s used to make ethanol. “Is that contributing to the common good? Well, there’s a lot of evidence that ethanol production does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for example, and there’s some evidence that it actually increases greenhouse gas emissions. So why are we doing this?” Jones asks. “We need to take a look at that land area again, which is 20% of our state.”

Jones suggests the solution to the long-running water pollution problems may also lie in diversifying what we grow in Iowa. He says we only have two species covering the majority of our fertile cropland — corn and soybeans. “We need diversity on our farms. We need more and different crops. We need different systems of animal production,” Jones says. “That’s just the bottom line here. If we want these nice things, nice lakes, nice rivers, nice air and so forth, we need to look at the entire system and what can we do to transform it to something else?”

Jones hopes the book finds wide appeal, as he says it’s important that people — politicians, farmers, industry leaders and everyone else — know the truth about what’s happening to our Iowa’s water, and to that “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.  “I’m 62 years old. The water has been bad here my entire life,” Jones says. “Has that been explained to anybody why that is the case in any sort of detail? I don’t think it has. I’m trying to reach the person on the street. I think this condition only changes if there’s grassroots demand for that change, and so that’s my audience.”

North Liberty-based Ice Cube Press is publishing the book.