Troubled Water – The Buffalo National River

Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act requires the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to compile a biennial list of impaired bodies of water in the state. A number of physical, chemical and biological parameters gathered by the ADEQ and other participating agencies are used to determine impairment.

Examples include physical impairment such as sediment, chemical impairment from any number of things but likely nutrient overload, and biological impairment such as fecal coliform bacteria. The standard for any given water body is not uniform but depends on the designated use of said water body.

The highest standard involves extraordinary resource waters, drinking water and water where there is primary (swimming) and/or secondary (wading, fishing) human contact. At the other end of the scale would be cooling water for industry. The objective of the standards is always to protect both human health and the environment in the least restrictive way.

Problems occur when these objectives clash. The ADEQ recently released its 2018 draft 303(d) list and for the first time, a section of the Buffalo National River was listed as impaired. A section of our national treasure and a tributary, Big Creek, are impaired due to elevated E. Coli (bacterial contamination) and low Dissolved Oxygen.

Notably, the area of impairment is adjacent to the controversial C&H hog farm. This farrowing operation raises several thousand hogs a year. Although the farm itself is locally owned the hogs are raised under contract with Brazilian giant JBS S.A, the world’s largest processor of beef and pork. The farm generates about two million gallons of feces and urine annually which is temporarily stored in lagoons before being sprayed on surrounding pasture and hay fields.

The farm was originally permitted by the ADEQ in 2012 and controversy was immediate. Opponents of the farm claimed that there was little to no public notice as required by ADEQ regulations. The farm was shortly thereafter sued for failure to conduct a proper Environmental Assessment (AE) as required by the US EPA.

Upon expiration of their initial permit, a renewal was requested. This was denied and to this date, the farm has been allowed to continue operations during their appeal of the permit denial.

The State has taken several steps to study the issue. First was a scientific group, the Big Creek Research and Extension Team, BCRET funded by the Governor’s office. This study was begun by Governor Beebe and continued by Governor Hutchinson.

More recently created is a type of public interest group, the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee, BBRAC. This ad hoc committee created by Governor Hutchinson is comprised of the heads of several state agencies.

In a considerable irony, this committee which was created for the sole purpose of addressing the clamor surrounding the hog farm, decided not to include the farm in its purview. At the last public meeting of BBRAC, a member of the audience commented that every one in the room was there because of the issue surrounding the hog farm yet the action plan did not address the farm.

The declaration of impairment of a 14-mile segment of the river and an adjacent tributary is a black eye for the state of Arkansas for its failure to protect the watershed of the Nation’s first federally protected river.

7 thoughts on “Troubled Water – The Buffalo National River

  1. Chuck Bitting

    ADEQ illegally permitted C&H Hog Farm in 2012, and has not owned up to this flagrant violation of the Code of Federal Regulations since that time. The specific regulation is 40 CFR 131.12 et seq. This Regulation is to maintain and preserve Outstanding National Resource Waters from a lowering of water quality. ADEQ failed then and continues to be in violation nearly 6 years later.

  2. Ray Jones

    Great reality/opinion piece of writing. Obviously, the opinion aspect is very well informed, and readers should take notice, as it’s spot on.

    The Buffalo National River is being assaulted.

  3. Barry Bryamt

    Is there a forum for battling this or a petition? How can collectively can we all speak loud enough to have the state shut the pig farm down

    1. bob Post author

      Right now the issue is before the courts, but with an election approaching, it never hurts to contact your state legislators and the governor’s office and let them know that the folks of Arkansas are ultimately responsible for keeping the Buffalo clean for posterity.

  4. KRF

    Well said, sir.

    It is beyond time for us to take better care of what we have. One thing we can all do: stop eating pork…no pork demand, no pork farming.

    Change the earth one bite at a time!

    Expecting the government to do the environmentally responsible thing would require a government of long term thinkers, not next-political cycle thinkers.

    We aint got that, Sir. We got lawyers and business owners and minor celebrities.

    I always enjoy your posts.



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