A story in a recent edition of the Mitchell Daily Republic has struck a nerve with us. The report noted how U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that rural America is ‘‘becoming less and less relevant.’’
He linked that comment with Congress’ failure to pass a farm bill, noting that ‘‘rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country.’’ He said those of us who live in rural America better ‘‘recognize that and we better begin to reverse it.’’
Then, just a day later, The Associated Press reported that a pipeline is being proposed to carry Missouri River water to parched areas of the country, hundreds of miles from the basin.
These two stories weren’t meant to be linked, but they have clear connections. Shortly after Vilsack says urbanites are taking us for granted, we hear that some of those urbanites now covet one of our most important natural resources.
The latter report told how the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming have been considering ways to get more water into the West.
Perhaps we’re getting too territorial here, but those sound like fighting words. They also come just months after a federal government proposal to start charging cities and other users who pull water straight from the banks of the Missouri River.
Delaying the farm bill is bad enough. That our Congress cannot see fit to push through laws that will have great effect on how we do business out here on the prairie is frustrating indeed.
Add to that this most recent news that other states covet Missouri River water and the federal government wants to charge us for the water that flows through our state, and it sure feels like Vilsack is dead-on correct. Rural America is emptying out and losing relevance, and outsiders increasingly view our part of the country only as a place to exploit. (Even the author of the story about the potential Missouri River water pipeline, writing from St. Louis, unwittingly showed how irrelevant we’ve become by erroneously stating that the Missouri River starts in North Dakota. That’s reflective of an attitude that basically says ‘‘whatever — it’s somewhere out there in that wasteland, and one place is the same as the next.’’)
It’s all very depressing to consider, but another recent story provides some hope. Recently, it was reported that the Army Corps of Engineers rejected calls from more-populated states to dump greater flows of Missouri River water into the Mississippi River to aid barge traffic. That decision by the corps was preceded by a lot of lobbying on all sides, including some very strong and even angry rhetoric from elected officials in South Dakota and the rest of the upper Missouri River basin. It wasn’t that lobbying alone that protected the interests of the upper basin, but it certainly appeared to help. And it didn’t hurt that the corps was still smarting over the public embarrassment heaped on it by upper Missouri River basin interests after the disastrous flooding of 2011.
The lesson from all of this is clear: If rural America wants to remain relevant, it must put forth strong leaders and stand up for itself. Our congressional delegates and other officials must be firm, and they must band together with other rural-state leaders to be heard.
It’s already a frustrating time in rural America. The drought is making everyone edgy.
The last thing we need is further delay on the farm bill, or discussions about diverting Missouri River water far away from us, or federal fees on water that flows through our state.
Mitchell Daily Republic