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As others see it: Stand up, rural America

A story in Monday's edition of The 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. The day 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. ...

It's all very depressing to consider, but another recent story provides some hope. It was reported Dec. 7 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.

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