Skip to content
Grist home
Support nonprofit news

Articles by Elizabeth Royte

Elizabeth Royte is the author of Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash and the forthcoming Bottlemania: How Water Went On Sale and Why We Bought It."

Featured Article

In late September, the corn and soybean fields of the lower Missouri River floodplain are a lovely dull brown, nearly ready for harvest. The row crops sprawl as far as the eye can see, their regimental march broken only by levees, gravel roads, the occasional band of cottonwoods, and the endless tracks of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe. The scenery is pastoral and soothing. But this abundance, and the security it evokes, has a darker underside. The nation’s breadbasket, it turns out, is poisoning the water.

Farmin’ is harmin’ the water.

Photo: EPA

The Mississippi River basin, which includes the Missouri River, drains 1.83 million square miles east of the Rocky Mountains and provides drinking water to more than 18 million people. The river receives not only the effluent of all those humans, but also that of their crops and cows.

Of the many threats to drinking water in this region, which includes 65 percent of America’s cropland, farming is by far the worst.

How It All Begins

The trouble starts with a healthy rain, which washes sediment from farms, especially from row crops... Read more