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Living in Society

Algae Growing on the Lake

Algae cover on Lake Macbride, Sept. 19, 2021.

The algae cover is growing on Lake Macbride. Every so often I take a longer daily walk and pass this spot where the trail is close to the lake. I’m not sure anyone is working on algae as a problem here.

The Lake Macbride Watershed is behind the times. Iowa Department of Natural Resources did not have a value for phosphorous entering the watershed on file, so those of us operating wastewater treatment plants participated in a recent study. I don’t know how they evaluated nitrogen and phosphorous coming from farm fields. I can tell you, our community of about 200 people is not the problem with excess nutrients entering the watershed. Our wastewater effluent is cleaner than the lake when it enters it from an unnamed creek.

Something has changed since we moved near the lake in 1993. Algae wasn’t so dominant then. Partly it is due to population growth in unincorporated areas with private septic systems. Partly it is due to runoff from farm fields. I believe the increasing use of field tile on farm fields contributes significantly.

I posted this photo on Twitter and thanks to Mother Jones writer Tom Philpott’s retweet it received 7,230 impressions and 393 engagements so far. That’s a lot for my posts. People are quick to condemn large-scale agriculture for the pollution.

The issue is inadequate regulation of nitrogen and phosphorus application on farms. Both are required nutrients for plants to grow. Since the move from organic soil to chemical applications in crop growing modern farmers are left no short-term option but to apply them. It makes sense that regulation could help us get cleaner water and less algae cover.

The large agricultural lobby groups don’t want regulation. Farm Bureau, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and Iowa Pork Producers Association are steadfast in buying legislators through campaign contributions to prevent needed regulation for cleaner water. That is how our politics operates, at least until legislators or the governor are willing to change it.

Instead of a calming walk through the state park, the algae-choked lake reminded me of the living hellscape of resource extraction that impacts everyone. It began with the removal of Big Grove Township’s namesake forests after settlement, and continues through development of a policy that has farmers planting fence row to fence row. There is more human settlement, but that’s not the problem as wastewater treatment is well regulated by the state. Much as I yearn for more state parks like the one in our township, Iowa has very little acreage set aside for conservation from development.

At least I got some exercise along with agitation from my walk… and this photo of milkweed going to seed.

Common milkweed along the state park trail, Sept. 19, 2021.

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Living in Society

Feeling A Cage

Peppers gleaned from the garden.

While riding my bicycle around the trail system I press against the edge of a boundary. It is mental, not physical.

I feel trapped in a cage, ready to break out.

June 18 was the first bicycle trip. I don’t remember where I went. The scale told me this morning I dropped two pounds since then. The purpose of increasing daily exercise wasn’t weight loss though. It was a way to deal with my diabetes diagnosis.

Since seeing my health practitioner in June I developed five types of exercise to get my heart going, produce a sweat, and support whatever magical physiological workings reduce blood sugar. I missed only three days of 25 minutes or more of exercise that included bicycling, jogging, using a ski machine, walking, and sustained gardening and yard work that produced a sweat. Combined with watching my carbs, eating fewer big meals, taking Vitamin B-12, an 81 milligram aspirin, and a cholesterol drug, my numbers came down to a more normal range. If I went to a physician today I wouldn’t be diagnosed with diabetes.

I’m ready for what’s next.

Part of me wants to ride and ride the bicycle. Mostly I run one of four five-mile routes and once or twice a week ride 10-14 miles. I have no interest in riding across Iowa with the tens of thousands who do so most years but I’m pressing the limit. I want more.

Desire is balanced by caution because of my age and the age of my 40-year old bicycle. Bicycles are always needing repair, adjustment, and maintenance so I’ve learned new skills and identified a bicycle repair shop. Even though I don’t work outside home there is a lot to do and I can’t afford a two or three-hour daily trip just because I’m restless. My lower body is strengthening and my jeans fit better. For the time being that may have to be enough.

During the days before the Nov. 3 U.S. general election the limits of my range are more profound, the cage more tactile. A lot depends on the election outcome. If Trump and Republicans do well, there is one course. If Biden and Democrats win there is another. I expect the results to be mixed in Iowa. There is a broad Republican base where Democrats win majorities only when everything aligns. Recent polling showed Biden leading Trump by 14 points in national popular vote polling. Hillary Clinton led Trump by 14 points in the same polling exactly four years ago. Political work remains this cycle.

With cooler weather approaching I’m not sure how much more outdoors exercise I can accomplish before winter. I have a good start on the ski machine and expect that to be my daily regimen until it warms again. Between the plan and reality comes a shadow.

For now, I’ll continue what I’ve been doing. At the same time this bird wants its freedom and to break loose from restrictions of a cage where we’ve been living too long. Not today, but soon.

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Living in Society

Turn Around

Turn around point on a two mile run.

Some days I don’t leave the Lake Macbride watershed while exercising. What we do here flows to the Iowa River and then downstream to the Gulf of Mexico.

Our personal goal is to contribute as few pollutants as possible to the watershed. We’re not the only ones who live, play and work here though.

The lake is polluted with nutrients from runoff. Evidence of surface algae and beach closings because of e. coli. contamination are standard. It didn’t used to be this way. Locals continue to use the lake for fishing, boating and other recreational activities. I stay out of the water and use the extensive trail system for bicycling, jogging, walking and soaking up Vitamin D.

Over the weekend I worked with the county Democratic party in a campaign sign distribution activity. Our home was one of five sign pick up locations throughout the county. Activity was slow. Most people continue to deal with the aftermath of the Aug. 10 derecho and with this week’s resumption of K-12 school. People are aware of the Nov. 3 election, and mostly know for whom they will vote for president, but not engaged in politics at any significant level.

I have a back up bicycle I will dig out and get ready to ride while I figure out what to do with the blown tire of my main one. The goal of exercise is to find four activities that produce a good sweat after 25-30 minutes and can be done easily from home. Bicycling and jogging I’ve written about. There is also a ski machine which serves for indoor and winter exercise. Need to come up with one more type with the ultimate goal of rotating exercise daily. I’m monitoring the condition of my feet, knees, hips and lungs as I venture into jogging for the first time since 2014. As I age I’m monitoring a lot more than that.

Next week I return to the clinic to review the newest panel of blood tests. Since my last one I’ve been exercising more, gave up beer and alcoholic drinks, and started a prescription to address elevated LDL cholesterol. I feel I’ve been doing the work. We’ll see if the results show it.

Life could be worse than living in the Macbride watershed. Whatever concerns we have about living here at least we don’t live in the COVID-infected metropolis. While I provided easy access to yard signs I wore my mask. I’ll be using my masks for a while.