Marlboro signs 5-year agreement with USFS to improve air quality

Now the USFS is looking for handouts and Coca-Cola is advertising bottled water, so this is a real win-win situation. The richest kid in town already gets to skip property taxes and blatantly ignore the very laws that gave it life, and now needs charity to manage its own resources. Fortunately, we have Tom Vilsack at the helm to steer this prodigal child and he knows just what to do — put enough spin on the situation so he gets his picture in the paper and makes it look like this is the latest thing in public forest management. wow.

This just in:

CHICAGO (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Coca-Cola signed a five-year agreement Friday to restore watersheds that have been damaged or altered by development, wildfires and agriculture as part of an initiative to slow runoff and replenish groundwater on federal lands.

Such efforts are increasingly important to corporations and farmers who rely on water and to tens of millions of people whose drinking water originates in the national forest system, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. But federal budget cuts and the wide scope of the problem have the USDA turning to partnerships with nonprofit groups and corporations for help.

“We need to look creatively at ways to leverage our resources or attract outside resources,” said Vilsack, who along with Coca-Cola Americas President Steve Cahillane will announce the partnership at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie outside of Chicago. A wetland at the 18,000-acre site is being restored by removing old agricultural drain tiles that divert almost 14 million gallons per year into waterways — and eventually down the Mississippi River — rather than allowing it to soak back into the ground.

It’s one of six projects that Coca-Cola has helped fund through a pilot program with the USDA’s U.S. Forest Service over the past two years, said Chris Savage, assistant director of the agency’s Watershed, Fisheries and Wildlife office. Others included restoring a wetland in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains that helps supply water to San Francisco and restoring the landscape along Colorado’s South Platte River that was devastated by fire a decade ago.

Under the new agreement, the company and the Forest Service will work with two nonprofit foundations — the National Forest Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation — to identify projects on federal lands. Corporate funding will go through the foundations, which also contribute money to the projects, officials said. There is no specific amount committed to the projects, but Vilsack said he expects “millions” will be spent.

Coca-Cola will emphasize projects that can be done fairly easily and improve resources in areas where the company withdraws water for production, said Bruce Karas, the company’s vice president of environment and sustainability for North America.

“Water stewardship is a key focus because … it’s in every product,” Karas said, adding that the company has pledged by 2020 to replenish as much water as it uses. The company has worked with universities and other organizations in the past, but partnering with the USDA could help it get the most from its investment because national forest lands often are the headwaters for important watersheds, Karas said.

The importance of restoring watersheds can’t be overstated, especially with climate change leading to weather extremes such as flooding and drought — and potentially more frequent and larger fires — at the same time manufacturers, residents and farmers increasingly compete for water, Vilsack said.

That’s particularly true in the West, he said, where wildfires have stripped the land of trees and other vegetation that once helped absorb water. The land, he said, “hardens like cement so rain runs off in a torrent” with ash, sludge and debris that makes its way into rivers and reservoirs. What’s more, the drinking water for about 60 million Americans originates in the national forest system.

“It’s about the quantity of water and availability,” he said.

9 Comments

  1. @Gil DeHuff
    Gil: How? If the USFS were actively managing our resources in a responsible manner we wouldn’t need handouts and publicity stunts to have a bottling company do it for us. And why does the USFS manage an 18,000-acre wetland in the first place, and why does it have drainage tiles all through it? Could this have been former tax-paying, job-producing farmland that has been taken off the tax roles? Pure speculation of course, but the whole thing doesn’t add up. And now Vilsack has become a national spokesperson for a soft drink, and we’re paying him to do it.

  2. well, after only a quick read, I would agree with Gil, this seems like a good thing. For a myriad of reasons (regardless of whether we all agree on what they are), the FS has fallen behind on its commendable goal of watershed restoration, and on demonstrating “upward trend in aquatic habitat capacity”, on federal lands they have responsibility for. One reason that perhaps many of us would agree on, is that adequate federal funding just isn’t available (Bob, I agree with you about the “responsible managing of resources”, but don’t think our society is willing to facilitate that to the extent necessary). This seems like it could be a mutually advantageous private/government project. Kind of like the Gates Foundation, I might complain about Microsoft, but Gates money is doing things for malaria control that wouldn’t get done otherwise, even if they should. Here, it looks like it’s former farmland (tiled) under USDA jurisdiction, I don’t know the details but lots of fed lands have been farmed over the years and still are, but one of the major products of Mississippi watershed farmland is pollutants (esp. Nitrates, Phosphates), just google “Mississippi dead zone” for estimates of the impact on the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe these projects will have a positive impact, and also good for USDA/FS image. So even though I’m not a big Tom Vilsack fan, this seems like a pretty savvy move to me. -GK

  3. @bobzybach

    I’m not proud, let the Coca-Cola users and the Coca-Cola company sooth their consciences and free up some budget money for the USFS to fight fires with or whatever.

    I don’t know how they got the wetlands but it very well could be an in holding that came with a chunk of forest but, no matter what, I’m all for a more efficient structure for our federal agencies including divesting significant acreages of common everyday forests to the states and turning everything else over to the NPS or the EPA.

  4. @bobzybach
    Yes, this was “former tax-paying, job-producing farmland that has been taken off the tax roles” — by the U.S. Army during World War II to make munitions. Under the doctrine of eminent domain, the government bought the land. I suppose the feds could have sold the land when it was no longer needed to make bombs, but the site was rather contaminated by that time.

  5. Thanks, Andy: That’s certainly an interesting history! 450 farm families displaced (sounds like Camp Adair’s history in that regard), 50 people killed in an explosion that could be heard 100 miles, six pioneer cemeteries, etc. As a superfund site that was supposed to have been completed in 2010, it would seem more like a job for the US Army, EPA, or duPont, rather than Coca Cola, though. I am glad it’s being preserved as a tallgrass prairie — maybe Marlboro can get involved when it becomes time to maintain the prairie with prescribed burns . . .

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