Roundup: Cleaner Rural Rivers on the Rise

Rural waterways getting cleaner • Drug boom in North Dakota • England's theory of devolution • Refugee helping ease local food demand • USDA investing in local food systems • Healthcare as economic engine • Cool shows in Candana's "small halls"

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Rural rivers are getting cleaner while urban streams are getting more polluted, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey. And that’s good news, because country waterways have a higher percentage of polluted waters as it stands. High Country News reports on the study, which found a 53% increase in urban waters contaminated with pesticides over a 19-year period. They contrast this trend with the number of contaminated "agricultural" waterways during the same period, which fell from 69 to 61%.

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The Washington Post has a thorough look at the drug and crime problem brought by the recent oil boom to North Dakota’s reservations.

“It’s like a tidal wave, it’s unbelievable,” said Diane Johnson, chief judge at the [Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara] Nation. She said crime has tripled in the past two years and that 90% is drug-related. “The drug problem that the oil boom has brought is destroying our reservation.”

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England’s county councils want to make sure rural areas don’t get left out of British plans to “devolve” some functions of government from national to local levels, reports the Tiverton Gazette.

County councils, which are the local unit of government outside major cities, are sending a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron saying they are disappointed with language he used in a speech about devolution.

Cameron only mentioned empowering “our great cities” and said nothing of the “37 county councils and county unitary authorities [that] represent 47% of the English population – some 23 million people.”

We agree that empowering city regions is essential to any new English devolution settlement.

But the great counties of England have an equal role in ensuring the economic success of the UK and delivering a fairer constitutional settlement for England.

Talking only of devolution to city regions risks alienating a huge swathe of voters.

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The high demand for local produce in many states is creating opportunities for people to grow more. Many states are tapping their refugee population, many of whom learned agrarian skills in their home countries, to farm small plots of land to supply these foods.  

“The big thing is that many refugees come from agrarian backgrounds and this is something that they are extremely accustomed to,” said Ron Munia, director of the Division of Community Development in the Office of Refugee Services. “The interaction with the local population and other refugees is a huge factor in helping them integrate.

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The USDA is about to invest in local and regional food economies. The agency will announce Monday, according to the New York Times, a $52 million program to encourage farmers’ markets, organic farming research, and other popular parts of the local food movement.

“These types of local food systems are the cornerstones of our plans to revitalize the rural economy,” Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, said in a telephone interview. “If you can connect local produce with markets that are local, money gets rolled around in the local community more directly compared to commercial agriculture where products get shipped in large quantities somewhere else, helping the economy there.”

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With healthcare jobs growing every year, there seems to be an opportunity to use healthcare as an economic driver in eastern Kentucky. Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies (who published this very website), agrees:

“If we could just provide good health care, we could just keep people spending more of those dollars at home. It is like bringing an automotive plant into your region, but it is one we do not think of much because we think of economic development as a big plant coming in.”

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Clearview Township in Ontario, Canada, is turning traditional “small halls” – a cultural landmark of rural Canadian communities – into trendy music venues as part of the Small Hall Festival, reports the Toronto Star.

The event raises funds for the operation of the community centers and brings to the traditional facilities a new generation of patrons, organizers say.

The Star reports that some of the events are bit “upscale” (“Take the $125 whiskey nosing and dinner Saturday in Singhampton, a short drive south of Collingwood”). That’s, perhaps, geared toward a new crop of weekenders and vacationers who are building second homes in the region. But there are also more traditional activities like chicken racing and outhouse building.

Younger people are joining the boards of small halls, says one township elected official. And the visiting bands love the venues. “In the entertainment industry, things can feel cold,” says Sarah Hershoff, a music organizer. “Yet when you walk through Avening [hall’s] doors it’s warm and inviting. It has the best stage and it has the best acoustics. [Alt country band] Elliott Brood recorded albums there.”

 

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