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  • 05 Aug 2017 9:16 AM | Anonymous

    Arkansasonline


    MASTERSON ONLINE: Ignoring Big Creek

    By Mike Masterson

    This article was published August 5, 2017 at 2:08 a.m.


    You’d think our state Department of Environmental Quality (wheeze) eventually would overcome the need to play politics when it comes to the controversial hog factory it quickly and quietly allowed into the Buffalo National River watershed four years ago.

    After all, this agency allegedly exists to enhance environmental quality rather than lobby for the benefits of domestic animal husbandry.

    Yet it continues down the path of protecting and promoting the factory with 6,500 swine. It’s a place that continuously sprays millions of gallons of raw hog waste onto a limited number of fields along and around Big Creek, a major tributary of the Buffalo flowing just 6 miles downstream.

    In the latest example of the department’s backflips to accommodate C&H Hog Farms at Mount Judea, the agency omitted Big Creek from the state’s latest federal list of “impaired waterbodies” even though extensive testing has shown that stream is more than deserving to be near the top of that EPA-required listing.

    Many people believe as I do: The Department of Environmental Quality hierarchy (and perhaps above them) find reasons not to include Big Creek because being cited as impaired would mean the agency would have to aggressively discover the source of the documented contamination. And who knows? That investigation might lead right to this misplaced hog factory operation that has been so championed politically by the agency, the Farm Bureau and Pork Producers.

    So the department submitted its 303(d) list of streams to the EPA minus Big Creek. And the agency seemed pleasantly relieved when the EPA approved its submission after stalling for four years. Such lists are required from states every two years under the Clean Water Act.


    A news account by reporter Emily Walkenhorst said the EPA until this month had not acted on our state’s past four consecutive impaired-waters lists. The EPA finally took action after approving and disapproving of elements of Arkansas’ water-quality standards last fall, said Department of Environmental Quality Director Becky Keogh.

    Keogh said she was “pleased” with the action, while Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the decision to remove many of the state’s waters once listed as impaired underscores efforts to “protect and enhance our natural environment.”

    When it comes to adequately protecting and enhancing the Buffalo National River, I suspect many Arkansans strongly disagree.

    Fisheries scientist Teresa Turk has been studying contamination in Big Creek and the Buffalo for years. “I’m disappointed science did not prevail in the face of large corporate agriculture politics on the state and federal level. The state ignored high E. coli levels collected by the Big Creek Research and Extension Team that met the definition of impairment in Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission Regulation 2. In addition, low dissolved oxygen readings exceeding standards were recorded by the U.S. Geologic Survey on Big Creek in 15-minute intervals. That provided greater resolution and accuracy than any other monitored streams in Arkansas. Yet [the Department of Environmental Quality] stated they didn’t have a way to use or assess such high quality and frequent information.”

    Turk said for practically all other streams, the state agency doesn’t have enough relevant information. Yet in the case of Big Creek, where the data showed impairment, it declined to use that information and declared instead that Big Creek didn’t have sufficient data. This is a stream that has more data collected than any other place in Arkansas.

    The department’s “decision to not list Big Creek undermines its credibility as a reputable scientific agency,” Turk continued. “In this case, politics has trumped good science and good logic. You can’t spread almost 3 million gallons of pig poop containing pathogens and phosphorus every year in a karst area next to a stream and not have serious stream degradation.”

    Duane Woltjen with the Ozark Highlands Trail Association told me Keogh responded to the Buffalo National River’s request for an impaired listing for Big Creek with the same “insufficient evidence” excuse when the river sought that designation months ago.

    “As I recall, the years of evidence we have was from the Buffalo National Park lab, which Keogh claimed was not certified for the first few years before becoming certified two years ago. But [the Department of Environmental Quality] says five years of consistent and persistent impairment is required to be officially listed. Under that criteria, this means two years are down, three to go, for [the agency] to admit Big Creek is impaired,” said Woltjen.

    Geosciences professor emeritus John Van Brahana, who more than any other has studied water quality and subsurface flow around the hog factory since it began operating in 2013, believes omitting Big Creek “appears to be a deliberate ignoring of facts presented by many researchers who have responded to the external expert team hired by the Big Creek Research and Extension Team to address the karst and groundwater affecting Big Creek and the Buffalo.”

    “The data we have from Big Creek, and especially the springs and groundwater that drain the spreading fields that flow into Big Creek and other Buffalo tributaries show anomalously high values of isotopes of dissolved trace metals (extreme high flow values), E. coli values in ephemeral streams draining into Big Creek during storm events, extremely high algae concentrations weeks to months after the spreading of feces and urine … and dye-tracing results that showed travel during high-water conditions to contiguous stream basins and the Buffalo from sites near spreading fields.

    “Most Arkansas high school students whose parents are real farmers would be well aware of problems caused by industrial agriculture to water quality downstream, although [the Department of Environmental Quality] has developed a recent record of ignoring these facts by altering rules and regulations,” claims Brahana, saying the department “raised the ante by requiring five years of data for an ‘impaired streams’ listing, thereby buying time and satisfying the ag-industrial lobby.”

    These occurrences don’t protect Big Creek or the Buffalo, says Brahana, nor do they follow peer-reviewed science that has raised a multitude of questions. He asks, “when science conducted by numerous independent, interdisciplinary scientists indicates problems exist, what’s the honest rationale behind Arkansas’ protective agency of the state’s environment requiring five years of data before it addresses or fixes it?”

    Finally, Gordon Watkins, who heads the Buffalo National River Watershed Alliance, said his organization was “disappointed but not surprised by [the Department of Environmental Quality]’s failure to list Big Creek as impaired when facts show otherwise.”

    He was surprised EPA Director Scott Pruitt visited the state and appeared before a select group of ag interests at the Poultry Commission offices rather than in public. “The signal it sends is not encouraging to those who feel Big Ag is having an inordinate negative impact on water quality, and suggests it will only get worse,” said Watkins. “But we’ve been active participants in current [department] methodology meetings.

    “And we just submitted Big Creek data, as did the National Park Service, for the 2018 Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report. That data will be used for the EPA’s 2018 303(d) list. We’re hopeful [the Department of Environmental Quality] won’t eliminate this data on another technicality and Big Creek finally will be rightly acknowledged as being impaired, and that corrective action will be taken.”

    Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

  • 03 Aug 2017 3:10 PM | Anonymous

    Civil Eats


    Largest-Ever Gulf Dead Zone Reveals Stark Impacts of Industrial Agriculture

    A new survey of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico sounds alarm and points to extreme overuse of toxic chemicals from farms and CAFOs.


    BY SCOTT THILL  |  ENVIRONMENT

    08.03.17


    A hypoxic dead zone about the size of New Jersey—8,776 square miles—has settled at the bottom of the continental shelf off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.

    Although dead zones—areas of water with little to no oxygen, where fish and other marine life cannot survive—have become an annual phenomenon, this year’s is the largest ever measured in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a direct result of industrial agriculture’s overreliance on chemical fertilizers, and it shows no sign of slowing down. If that’s not enough bad news, that dead zone may actually be even larger than recorded, since the week-long survey ran out of time to chart its full size.

    “If we had been able to pursue the area further to the west, we definitely would have found more low oxygen, we’re just not sure how much,” Louisiana State University oceanographer Nancy Rabalais told Civil Eats, shortly after announcing the results of her annual survey. “It may have raised the area to 23,000 square kilometers, or 8,961 square miles.”

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a target of keeping the dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River to under 1,900 square miles. But considering the steady annual growth of the dead zone since mapping cruises like Rabalais’ began in 1985, there remains much more to be done.

    Indeed, Rabalais’ report took pains to note that this year’s mapping found a “mostly continuous band of extremely low-oxygen concentrations alongshore at the nearshore edge of the zone,” an indicator that the cause is coming from land rather than sea.

    Industrial Agriculture to Blame

    The culprit is as obvious as it is fixable: Nitrogen and phosphorus used as farm fertilizers flowing off farmlands and into the Mississippi River watershed.


    “The primary driver of the increased nutrient loading is agricultural land use, which is strongly influenced by farm policy,” the report states. The buildup of nutrients results in waters starved of oxygen, destroying the food chain in the area, and killing off shrimp and fish populations—and the industries that depend on them.

    If you want to change the size of the dead zone, Rabalais concludes, change the impact of your land use. “Anything that can be done within the agriculture community for best practices and, especially by way of sustainable agriculture would greatly reduce the nitrogen fluxes from the landscape,” Rabalais said.

    Unfortunately, there are no signs that dead zones in the Gulf and elsewhere are anywhere near shrinking: Rabalais’ study concluded that the one in the Gulf is the second-largest worldwide, and it seems to be getting larger every year. Indeed, dead zones globally have been increasing in the last several decades, and now number over 500, with wide-ranging impacts on food systems and industries dependent on seafood, as well as environmental health risks from acutely toxic algae in drinking water and chronically toxic byproducts from treating that algae.

    Solutions Available

    Fortunately, solutions to agricultural runoff aren’t hard to find. Whether its encouraging farmers through incentives and regulations to use less fertilizer, implementing nutrient trading schemes, or eating less meat, America has an arsenal of weapons to combat the food industry’s war on oxygen.


    Although Rabalais’ findings may be alarming, they’re not surprising. They’ve been confirmed by other annual surveys, and the sources of the pollution are widely known. Indeed, a report published earlier this week by advocacy group Mighty identifies the global meat industry—particularly Tyson, Cargill, Smithfield, and other industry giants—as the biggest causes of the pollution that feeds the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.

    As daunting as the scale of the problem that faces the Mississippi River Basin is, the Mighty report spells out a five-step “path to cleaner meat”—including the use of cover crops, natural buffers to absorb runoff, better manure management, and rotating alternate growing crops of small grains like oats, wheat, and barley in addition to corn and soy for animal feed—that could quickly shrink the dead zone.

    “This problem is worsening and worsening and regulation isn’t reducing the scope of this pollution,” Lucia von Reusner, campaign director at Mighty, told The Guardian earlier this week. “These companies’ practices need to be far more sustainable. And a reduction in meat consumption is absolutely necessary to reduce the environmental burden.”


  • 01 Aug 2017 3:15 PM | Anonymous



    Outdoor Recreation a Critical Player in Arkansas’ Economy
    Generating $9.7 Billion in Consumer Spending Annually and Directly Contributing 96,000 Jobs

  • 30 Jul 2017 8:48 AM | Anonymous

    Letter to the Editor


    Cotton not standing up for state water protection


    I cannot express my deep disappointment in Tom Cotton’s vote to roll back the Clean Water rule, and in his position on health care, leaving Arkansas’ rural families afraid for their futures.

    His decisions will make Arkansas poorer, less safe for our children, our health and our water supplies, not to mention effects on tourism related rural and regional economies.

    To reduce safeguards for water that the EPA spent years working to attain is purely wrong. I was willing to give the senator a chance to keep his word that he was working for us in rural Arkansas. My livelihood and my neighbors along the Buffalo River depend on its waters and on Bull Shoals lake (our drinking water source). To diminish regulations to suit “Big Ag” can’t benefit us. Without EPA protecting our waters, corporate lobbyists with no allegiance to Arkansas will continue influencing and even writing legislation that weakens our state.

    When we can’t drink the water, when the Buffalo River is clotted with algae, and our tourism businesses are gone, who will benefit from weakened water rules? Only large agribusinesses that locate their own families and headquarters far from the rural wastelands they create.

    When senators turn their backs on their constituents, family farmers are driven out. Boone County had only one dairy farm that FFA students could visit on a field trip this spring. The rest were replaced by CAFOs that don’t host field trips. Since when can’t a farm family host future farmers? The unfortunate answer is since the concentration of animals in confined operations replaced family farms. Most family farmers are over the age of 60. Their children can’t compete with these huge factories. They become contract labor for vertical integration enterprises, owning nothing but land and a mortgage. Or, they sell the family farm and leave home to find jobs.

    I ask Sen. Cotton to step up to the plate and start representing the real people of his state. We need clean water for drinking and for the tourism that depends on recreation. We don’t need dirty waters and reduced health care. What happened to the water in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina as CAFOs replaced family farms is fair warning. Non-American takeovers of our rural land threaten Arkansas. How many small family farms remain in Mr. Cotton’s own neighborhood? His is a Heritage farm with special designation because so few are left. Would he like to convert to a swine CAFO?

    We have to hope he has the integrity to work for us, to care for our children when they are sick, to ensure water fit for them to drink, and to protect the natural wonders of Arkansas that bring tourism that supports our rural livelihoods now that most our family farms are just memories.

    MARTI OLESEN

    Ponca

    letters@nwadg.com

  • 30 Jul 2017 8:46 AM | Anonymous

    EPA at last approves impaired-waters list

    By Emily Walkenhorst

    Posted: July 30, 2017 at 3 a.m.


    NWAOnline


    The long-delayed federal approval of Arkansas' list of impaired water bodies adds and removes numerous water bodies, allowing some to be deprioritized and others to be considered for more rigorous study for the first time.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a decision document this month for the first time in eight years approving the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's list, often referred to as the 303(d) list after the part of the Clean Water Act that requires it.

    The department submits a list to the EPA every two years, but the EPA had until this month declined to act on the past four lists. The EPA was able to take action on the list after approving and disapproving of elements of Arkansas' water-quality standards last fall, said Becky Keogh, director of the Environmental Quality Department.

    This month, the EPA approved many streams' removal from or addition to the list and deferred action for further review on dozens of others.

    "The EPA has concluded that Arkansas has met the requirements of 40 C.F.R § 130.7(b)(5) with regards to all the waters listed by the state," the EPA's July 19 letter to the department reads.

    The EPA's action on the list is a relief for the department, while other groups had been dissatisfied with the department's list from the start.

    Keogh said she was "pleased" with the EPA's action, and a news release from Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the decision to remove many of the waters once listed as impaired underscores the state's efforts to "protect and enhance our natural environment."

    Jessie Green, a former senior ecologist with the department who now runs the White River Waterkeeper Alliance, said she is concerned that changes to water standards allowed more water bodies to be removed from the list than would have under old rules. She also rejected the EPA's and the department's decision not to include Big Creek on the list, a sentiment echoed by Ozark Society Arkansas director Bob Cross.

    Green cited the rigorous study of Big Creek since the opening of C&H Hog Farms nearby in 2013 as a reason to believe data on the creek were sufficient to determine that it was impaired.

    "There's more than enough data to refute those claims" she said. "There's probably more E. coli data for Big Creek than any other stream in the state."

    Green, the National Park Service and other groups wanted to see certain Buffalo National River tributaries, namely Big Creek, added to the list. The department rejected that, arguing it had insufficient data and that the data it did have did not indicate pollution.

    High E. coli levels had been detected at Mill Creek, and low dissolved oxygen levels were detected at Mill Creek, Bear Creek and Big Creek. But the department uses five years of data to determine impairment, which it did not have.

    "Based upon communications with Arkansas, insufficient Escherichia coli data exist to assess one segment of Big Creek," the EPA noted in its decision to require no further action on the creek.

    Shawn Hodges, the Park Service's ecologist for the Buffalo National River, said he submitted new data on Big Creek to the department Friday that he believes will meet the department's standards for data for the 2018 list, which will come out early next year. The data would be from continuous monitoring, a type of data collection the department has not had as a method of guiding interpretation.

    The 303(d) list often contains hundreds of lakes and streams, assessed by data collected during a five-year period examining things like E. coli and dissolved oxygen levels. The data, if deemed sufficient by the department and the EPA, are intended to determine if a water body is meeting its designated use -- for example, as a fishing source, drinking water source or swimming hole.

    Placement on the list means a water body can be considered for a Total Maximum Daily Load study, which would determine what restrictions and activities need to be undertaken to meet water-quality standards. For the past eight years, the department has been able to initiate more data collection only for water bodies it determined to be impaired because it could not officially place them on the 303(d) list.

    "So it's important to have an updated list" to make sure problems in streams can be resolved, said Caleb Osborne, department associate director in charge of the office of water quality.

    From 2008-16, the department submitted 27 fewer water bodies to the EPA for inclusion on the list, 325 instead of 352. This month, the EPA determined that 76 percent of the water bodies, of varying lengths and sizes, labeled as impaired in 2008 could be removed from the list, according to the news release from Hutchinson's office.

    Metro on 07/30/2017


  • 23 Jul 2017 7:25 AM | Anonymous

    NWAOnline


    Hog farm finds tolerance, disdain

    C&H, operating in watershed since 2013, seeks new permit

    EMILY WALKENHORST
    ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

    Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/MITCHELL PE MASILUN

    Sharon Pierce of Mount Judea stands over Big Creek near its confluence with the Buffalo River. Pierce, who taught the owners of C&H Hog Farms in school, said she supports the operation but would be against another farm of that size moving into the area.

    Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/MITCHELL PE MASILUN

    C&H Hog Farms, which houses 6,503 head of swine, sits 6 miles from the Buffalo River along Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo. The farm, a contributor to the area’s economy but a source of alarm for those who fear its effects on the watershed, is awaiting a new state permit allowing it to stay in operation with a small change in the number of sows and piglets.

    Watkins

    Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/

    MITCHELL PE MASILUN

    Donna Dodson of Mount Judea is not opposed to the large hog farm, saying she’s all for people using their land as they wish as long as it doesn’t harm others.

    Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/MITCHELL PE MASILUN

    Kris Jorgensen is an owner of Lost Valley Canoe and Lodging in Ponca. While many outfitters fear pollution from C&H Hog Farms could affect business, some in the tourism business believe agriculture and tourism can co-exist.

    Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

    Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/MITCHELL PE MASILUN

    The Little Buffalo River flows through Jasper in Newton County, a town that benefits from tourism related to the Buffalo River and its surroundings.

    Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

    NEWTON COUNTY — Four years have passed since C&H Hog Farms began operating along a tributary 6 miles from the Buffalo River, but not much has changed for most folks in Newton and Searcy counties.

    C&H has applied for a permit again, and people within the area remain divided about whether the farm presents a danger to the country’s first national scenic river.

    The Buffalo National River drew Gordon Watkins to Newton County. He grew up on a Mississippi cotton and soybean farm but visited the river as a teenager in the 1960s. Years later, he and his wife moved into a log cabin he built in Jasper, near where Big Creek meets the Buffalo River.

    He’s harvested vegetables and blueberries there and raised cattle. He’s dabbled in the cabin rental business and worked for the National Park Service.

    Now, Watkins serves as a voice for the river. As president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, he speaks out against the presence of C&H — a farm that houses 6,503 hogs that moved into the watershed in 2013.

    C&H has become the target of groups that fear its presence is an environmental risk to the Buffalo River, which attracted nearly 1.8 million visitors last year.

    C&H, which sits on Big Creek, is awaiting word from the state on a new permit that would allow it to continue operation with only a small change in the number of sows and piglets allowed on the farm.

    Many fear that manure from the farm — the largest hog operation ever to operate in Newton County — could find its way into the Buffalo River and pollute the water, like what has happened in other states.

    Watkins attends every public meeting that has anything to do with the Buffalo River. Pointing to the alliance’s growing membership of more than 2,000, he says there is no decline in concern about the risk C&H poses to the river. If anything, he says, people are becoming more informed.

    For him, and others, there is only one solution when it comes to C&H.

    “The solution is dissolution,” Watkins said.

    Not everyone in the surrounding area agrees with that assessment.

    Many defend the farm’s owners — Jason Henson, Phillip Campbell and Richard Campbell, all of whom declined interview requests — and say they are contributors to the area’s small economy. As long as they follow the rules, supporters say, they should be left alone.

    The dispute extends well beyond Arkansas, but it’s more personal for locals like Santana Smith, a 30-year-old Mount Judea resident who is related to the farm’s owners.

    “It’s a touchy subject around here,” said Smith, who is reluctant to talk about the farm. “It ain’t hurting nothing.”

    AN EMOTIONAL ISSUE

    C&H Hog Farms is tucked away in the landscape of Mount Judea, a small community just north of the Ozark National Forest and south of the Buffalo River, away from much of the tourist hubs.

    The Buffalo River stretches from Newton County through Searcy and Marion counties, where it runs into the White River. Nearly the entire watershed is in Newton and Searcy counties.

    Unemployment is higher than average in the area, and the population is shrinking. Only one of the seven towns — Marshall, at 1,355 — is home to at least 500 people. Most residents either grew up in the area or moved there to be close to the river.

    Evan Teague, vice president for commodity and regulatory affairs for the Arkansas Farm Bureau, supports the hog farm and helps its owners navigate the choppy waters where they’ve found themselves. He’s attended scores of meetings and hearings about the hog farm, and describes the four years since C&H began operations as “challenging,” “frustrating” and “disappointing.”

    Thousands of letters have been sent in opposing the the farm, and critics are a frequent presence at state environmental meetings.

    “It’s emotional, it’s physical, it’s tiring,” said Carol Bitting, a Marble Falls resident who has fought C&H’s operation and often finds herself at the same meetings as Teague.

    The fight is just as personal for Bitting as it is for the others. She moved to Newton County in 1991. She was a “caver” at the time, exploring and mapping caves, and the Buffalo River area was perfect for that. She doesn’t want to see it fouled.

    “It’s a job,” she said of the fight against the farm’s permit renewal. “It’s a constant job.”

    Many in the Mount Judea area say the hog farm’s owners are good men who have gone above and beyond what is required to protect the environment.

    “They’re just great community members and businessmen,” said Sharon Pierce, 64, who taught the owners in school. “They provide jobs for the community. They donate to the school. They volunteer in the community.”

    Donna Dodson and Pierce don’t like the idea of a large hog farm in Newton County, but they said they support C&H and its owners, whom they trust. Pierce said she wouldn’t support another farm of similar size moving into the area, but Dodson said she would.

    “I’m all for people being able to use their land in a way that they see fit, as long as they aren’t doing things that would erode their neighbors’ property or anything,” Dodson said.

    A little farther away, people who are invested in tourism aren’t concerned about who owns the hog farm. It’s just in the wrong place, they say.

    Sheila Roenfeldt is co-owner of Cedar Crest Lodge in Ponca. The lodge is upstream of Big Creek’s confluence with the Buffalo, but Roenfeldt believes pollution downstream would be associated with the entire river and affect tourism all along it.

    “I don’t want the family punished, because it’s not about them,” Roenfeldt said. “[But] how do we call ourselves the Natural State and then allow this?”

    The farm’s owners have said they follow the rules, and Watkins concedes that is probably true, but opponents say an operation of such size should never have been permitted within the river’s watershed.

    “The problem is that the rules are inadequate,” Watkins said.

    A HISTORY OF FARMING

    Hogs have been raised in the Buffalo’s watershed for decades.

    In 1992, worries that agriculture — specifically dairy and hog farms — could negatively affect tourism along the Buffalo River prompted state officials to stop granting new permits for five years.

    During the moratorium, officials studied 16 existing farms. The Department of Environmental Quality, which conducted the study, was unable to provide a copy of the study. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s summary of the study reveals that most of the farms were not being operated to “minimize the amount of waste leaving the farms.”

    In 1995, the Buffalo River Swine Waste Demonstration Project began working with farmers and governments to address proper manure management. Eventually environmental conditions improved, and the EPA touted the project as a success.

    The moratorium ended in 1997, and the number of hog farms increased with the number of sows nearly doubling.

    More hogs were raised on farms in Newton and Searcy counties then than are being raised there today. In 1997, 17 hog farms were permitted to hold more than 4,800 sows, 7,000 smaller pigs and 90 boars, according to Arkansas permit and compliance records. In 2017, five farms have about 4,000 sows, 5,700 smaller pigs and 15 boars.

    C&H Hog Farms, which has 2,503 sows and 4,000 pigs, was the first and remains the only federally classified medium or large hog farm in the area.

    POLLUTION CONCERNS

    Opponents of C&H point to hog farm containment failures in other states that have polluted waterways, killing marine life and leaving streams impaired for years.

    A large hog farm leak in Illinois five years ago is an example of the potential aftermath of such a spill. A farm housing more than 8,000 hogs spilled manure into Beaver Creek, a tributary of the 55-mile Iroquois River. The spill polluted 20 miles of the creek, killing 148,283 fish and 17,563 freshwater mussels, according to the Chicago Tribune.

    The species were beginning to recover by 2016, the newspaper reported, but other hog manure spills killed more fish and contributed to the impairment of 67 bodies of water in Illinois.

    Because of C&H’s large size, National Park Service officials contend the farm poses a bigger risk to water quality than other Arkansas farms. Park Service officials said C&H’s operations could slowly degrade the river for years before detection of lasting changes, and fixing any problems could take even longer.

    Yet the agency also noted that agriculture, along with development, have likely contributed to slow degradation of the Buffalo for decades — much longer than C&H has been around.

    Ongoing research since 2013 by the University of Arkansas System’s Agriculture Division, at a cost of $100,000 a year in state money, has yet to link C&H with any pollution in Big Creek or the Buffalo River. Monitoring for the study should be complete by mid-2019, according to Mary Hightower, a spokesman for the division. Drawing a conclusion that discerns something other than seasonal trends could take years, Hightower said.

    Arkansas agriculture officials say no major failures have occurred in the state.

    State inspections show that between 1996 and early 2017, hog farms spilled manure into waterways at least 16 times. More than 50 fish were killed in a pond in Pope County as the result of one spill in 1998, but the spills were not of the devastating scale that occurred in other states.

    Records don’t always detail follow-up inspections, but in some cases the cause of the leak was addressed right away.

    Spills, leaks, overflows and unauthorized discharges were noted 339 times in the 1,332 inspection violation records analyzed by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. That figure does not count multiple spills in a single report, because multiple spills often were not quantified.

    In the past 10 years, records indicate leaks have occurred less frequently as the number of hog farms has diminished.

    The decrease also comes from improved education and training since the Demonstration Project in the mid-1990s, said Jerry Masters, executive vice president of the Arkansas Pork Producers Association. Masters said he spends at least 15 percent of his time working on C&H issues, even though the farm has largely been in compliance.

    A RIVER-DEPENDENT

    ECONOMY

    Shops with canoes propped up out front, rustic cabins, motels and restaurants dot the hills along the Buffalo. They serve as reminders of what many locals consider a vibrant tourism industry, and a reminder of why protecting the river is so important.

    In 2015, 29 leisure and hospitality businesses employed an average of 258 people and paid $2.6 million in wages in Newton and Searcy counties. Harm to the Buffalo could be a serious risk to jobs and livelihoods in those counties.

    “I don’t think [C&H] should be here,” said Aaron Jones, 26, an employee of Lost Valley Canoe in Ponca, which is upstream from the farm. “Not on America’s first national river.”

    Monte Smith, 59, owns Silver Hill Float Service in St. Joe in Searcy County, which is downstream of C&H. He said he fears a spill could close the river to canoeists for an entire season.

    Not everyone in the tourism business feels as threatened. Some believe agriculture and tourism can co-exist.

    Teresa Morris, 63, manages Buffalo River Float Service in Yellville. She said she is more concerned about waste from tourists and feral hogs in the watershed than C&H.

    Agriculture is the other major private industry within the river’s watershed, but it’s impact is more difficult to measure. The number of animal farms large enough to require federal employment data disclosure is low, but a Bureau of Labor statistics data specialist said doubling the numbers of farms that report offers a fair estimate of the industry’s employment figures.

    In 2015, four Newton County farms employed 12 people and paid $346,513 in wages. If doubled, eight farms would employ 24 people who earned about $693,026 in wages. The bureau did not have any information for the two cattle farms noted in Searcy County.

    Mount Judea residents see C&H as an important economic factor in their unincorporated community. The hog farm is set to pay $8,823.64 in property taxes this year, and some residents say they would welcome an additional farm.

    “I think they’re young people trying to make a living in this country,” said Velma Norton, co-owner of Norton Country Store. “Why don’t they leave them alone and let them make a living?”

    Many leaders have declined to take a position for fear of alienating people on either side of the issue. Darryl Treat, president of the Searcy County Chamber of Commerce, said his group can’t afford to be divisive with the county’s population and economic opportunities in decline.

    “We have serious economic challenges,” Treat said. “We have to be working together.”

    STILL WAITING

    The Environmental Quality Department is considering more than 900 public comments on whether to issue a new permit for C&H.

    Department officials have reviewed public comments since April from people who live within the watershed as well as those who live outside the area but visit on occasion. Officials would not estimate when a final decision on the permit will be made.

    The more optimistic say they hope to build long-term support for the farmers and the environment with less arguing, but that seems a long way off considering the current climate surrounding the permit request.

    “It’s created a lot of polarization,” said Beth Ardapple, who lives near Mount Judea. “Our best prospect for the environment is to support these [farm] owners to protect the environment and also to have good, strong regulations and monitor closely.”

  • 20 Jul 2017 8:34 AM | Anonymous

    Arkansas Times


    EPA chief Pruitt in Arkansas pushing end to clean air and water rules

    Posted By Max Brantley on Thu, Jul 20, 2017 at 12:05 PM






    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was in Little Rock today and touted his effort to loosen clean air and water rules at a meeting at the Don and Randal Tyson Conference Center at the Arkansas Poultry Federation.


    This was not a widely announced visit to the poultry lobby HQ. Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge were on hand, along with a select audience, and they posted photos of the appearance on Twitter.

    Too much publicity perhaps would have drawn some resistors to the sidewalk outside.

    On his own Twitter account, Pruitt said he was 

    In the #NaturalState talking #WOTUS w folks representing rice, pork, cattlemen, electric utilities & other vital industries  

    People who fight for clean water, no pig poop in the Buffalo River, clean air so you can see the bluffs and you're average air-breathing, water-drinking city-dwelling Arkie? They weren't specifically listed.

    Hutchinson put it this way:

    The @EPA's #StateActionTour brought @EPAScottPruitt to AR. He's now listening to AR Agriculture stakeholders' responses to the #WOTUS rule. 
    WOTUS is waters of the United States. It refers to an Obama-era rule to make clear clean water rules apply to streams and wetlands that flow into navigable streams. Poop does run down hill after all.  Farmers, particularly, howled at the extension of protection to water that makes up a big part of the country's drinking water supply. The Trump administration plans to roll things back. The Audubon Society explains. I'm guessing they weren't on the invite list either.

    Here's how Rutledge Tweeted it:

    .@EPAScottPruitt wants to give farmers and ranchers certainty in a new #WOTUS rule. Listening to ideas of Arkansas landowners today. #arpx 
    City dwellers who want certainty about their water supply? Some other time.

    Those sitting up front included Becky Keogh, director of the state's putative department of "Environmental Quality."

    PS — Don't go to fondly remembering former Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel on this occasion. He touted Pruitt, former Oklahoma a.g., as a great pick to head EPA. McDaniel was a friend of air-polluting coal burners, too.

    After the event concluded, Rutledge issued a news release praising Pruitt and herself. She touted her own work to roll back the WOTUS water protection rule; to allow more pollution from coal-burning smokestacks; to fight haze and mercury rules; to oppose rules aiming to reduce smog, and other anti-regulatory efforts. Cough.

    Glen Hooks of the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club also commented later:

    “Arkansas is The Natural State, a place where we place a high priority on clean water. We hope that Administrator Pruitt learned today about the damage and environmental consequences that the Trump Administration’s clean water rollbacks will cause to our citizens and waterways.

    ""The Clean Water Act makes it plain that science should lead policy, not the other way around. Arkansans expect the EPA to lead the fight to protect our most precious resources. Sadly, Administrator Pruitt is taking a different approach. 

    "Since assuming office back in February, Administrator Pruitt has proposed rolling back dozens of existing environmental protections – recklessly creating new threats to the health and quality of life of Arkansas families.

    The Arkansas Sierra Club is committed to protecting our water and natural resources here in The Natural State. We will continue to strenuously oppose the Trump Administration’s environmental rollbacks at every opportunity, because our state's air and water are worth fighting for."


  • 16 Jul 2017 7:13 AM | Anonymous

    Undisputed jewel

    Buffalo's worth

    By Mike Masterson

    Posted: July 16, 2017 at 1:48 a.m


    NWAOnline


    My affection and concern for the welfare of our Buffalo National River, the first so designated in the country back in 1972, is redundantly apparent to readers.

    We have what no other state does in this natural treasure, which with benefits brings serious responsibility for its care. Other than the majesty of its towering bluffs and clear flow through the scenic mountains, the Buffalo brings so much value to our state and an otherwise economically deprived region.


    A National Park Service report released in April shows revealed we hosted 1.78 million visitors to Buffalo National River in 2016 who spent nearly $77.6 million in communities around the park. That supported 1,200 jobs in the area while generating a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $90.2 million


    The recreation and escape this God-given natural wonder provides so many Arkansans and Americans are irreplaceable should this river become fouled with raw waste from the 6,500-swine factory our state's Department of Environmental Quality (wheeze) permitted into the sacred watershed just six miles upstream and along a major tributary.


    With that in mind, I found the latest local economic impact information collected by the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance especially relevant. The analytical project is part of an examination of tourism industry in Newton County where the hog factory is located.

    Gordon Watkins, chairman of the alliance, told me, based on information from the Tourism Trust Fund managed by Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, that during calendar year 2016 tourism-related businesses in the county paid $130,120 toward the state's 2 percent Tourism Tax.


    "This equates to a remarkable amount of gross revenues generated by these Newton County tourism businesses in one of the poorest counties in Arkansas," said Watkins. "This is a significant sum, especially considering the multiplier effect, as this income is spent with and amongst other local, non-tourism businesses, such as gas stations, hardware stores, restaurants, cleaning services, carpenters, etc."

    Watkins said the primary tourist attraction in Newton County is, of course, the Buffalo National River. "So by comparison how much does one hog operation with a handful of employees contribute to Newton County?" he wonders.


    Well, the alliance website says only about a dozen jobs mostly paying at or near minimum wages are created by the factory while property values within a few miles tend to decline by an average of 6 percent. And who knows what the impact to a resource such as the Buffalo that accounts for about $38 million in revenue to Arkansas would be should the river become fouled from hog waste?


    So, my friends, you can continue to count me among the many thousands across our state who remain deeply troubled, even angry, that this wholly preventable and unnecessary state of jeopardy to our special river even exists and is even being nurtured rather than discouraged by the state.

  • 01 Jul 2017 1:15 PM | Anonymous

    Can’t pick just one

    Memorable career

    By Mike Masterson

    Posted: July 1, 2017 at 2:11 a.m.


    I was asked the other day which among a career of stories I consider most memorable.

    That proved more difficult than expected once I began to reflect across 46 years.

    For instance, there was the case of Shelby Barron, a black mason in Hot Springs, who was wrongly indicted on rape and robbery charges only to be freed after evidence proving his innocence was published.

    Beebe's Millicent Lynn was found floating in a lake near Hot Springs and the medical examiner ruled her death suicide until stories raised questions that led to her exhumation, where a bullet hole was discovered through her head.

    There also was Richard Fuller, a Cummins inmate whom the medical examiner ruled died from heart infection. Stories questioned that finding. His body was exhumed only to have a second autopsy determine death from manual strangulation.

    Afterwards, while heading the investigative team at the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, came a year-long investigation into mistreatment and corruption in federal Indian programs. That prompted U.S. Senate hearings and reforms.

    We discovered the Indian Health Service had been regularly injecting developmentally disabled women with Depo-Provera to prevent pregnancy without their knowledge or consent.

    Two years later, we published another series revealing an astounding number of nursing homes nationwide were misusing powerful anti-psychotic medications to control the behavior of many sane residents in order to cut expenses. That also led to legislative hearings and reforms.

    Young David Michel died in 1980 after suffering a head injury in a shooting incident on a Little Rock parking lot. The medical examiner initially ruled his death an accidental fall. Subsequent stories a year later in the Arkansas Democrat, however, showed the injury to the top of Michel's head was caused by a rifle butt, and a witness to the beating emerged. The revelations led to an arrest and murder conviction.

    I spent a year at the Democrat digging into the 20-year-old case of Marvin Williams, a 21-year-old black veteran who was married and employed in Conway when he died in the Faulkner County jail. Police said he'd fallen on the courthouse stairs. But an inmate said he witnessed Williams beaten to death in a cell by two white men in uniform. The resulting stories led to a special grand jury that indicted two former Conway officers on murder charges. They were later acquitted at trial.

    Ronald Carden of Bigelow had been convicted of murdering a "Jane Doe." But evidence discovered and published in a three-month investigation proved his innocence and a judge freed him.

    In Chicago, a series of investigative stories explored the deaths of more than 20 black men in police custody in two years. Those articles led to exhumations and into the medical examiner's office. Ultimately, the FBI launched an investigation and the Chicago Police Department announced sweeping new reforms in the way suspects were treated in the city's lockups. Later at the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey, another investigative series on deaths in custody prompted national legislation that required all deaths in local jails and lockups to be reported to the U.S. Justice Department.

    Also in Chicago, I discovered the state had been secretly busing developmentally disabled people from its 5,000-patient facility at Dixon, Ill., into sleazy nursing homes owned by political contributors in order to fill those homes' Medicaid-reimbursed beds. These places were ill-equipped to handle such patients' unique needs. As a result, many were dying, including Donna Sonnenberg, whose sad story led to the first criminal conviction of a Chicago nursing home owner for neglect.

    During a summer consulting at Red Bank, N.J.'s Two River Times, I wrote about three mentally ill patients being burned to death 17 years earlier in a halfway house at nearby Sea Bright. Police then reopened that cold case, which led to the arrest and arson conviction of two men 18 years later.

    While writing since 2001 as purely an opinion columnist, there was the shameful 1989 death of Marshall's Janie Ward during a teen party outside town. The medical examiner left her manner and cause of death as undetermined while acknowledging additional investigation was needed. Was it ever! A California medical examiner came to Arkansas, exhumed her body and determined her death had been a homicide from a blow to her neck and spinal cord. A special prosecutor was named and despite documented falsehoods, obstruction, gaps and contrived evidence, he took her politicized case full circle for four years back to an undetermined manner.

    I've lately been involved in writing about how our state wrongheadedly allowed a hog factory into the precious Buffalo National River watershed at Mount Judea. Yet another book.

    As you might imagine, picking the most memorable has proven impossible.

    Some good news, valued readers. I will continue to write three columns weekly (rather than two as previously announced) with one change. Saturday's offerings will be available only online beginning next week, while Sunday and Tuesday will remain in the printed version. Thanks for your support and for reading.

    ------------v------------

    Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

    Editorial on 07/01/2017

  • 20 Jun 2017 7:11 AM | Anonymous

    Arkansasonline


    Fran Alexander: This land is whose land?

    Congress, White House look to shed federal protections

    By Fran Alexander

    Posted: June 20, 2017 


    "National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst."

    -- Wallace Stegner, 1983

    If someone would just explain to me why protecting air, water and land from pollution and erosion is a bad idea, I could just shut up and go away. However, after 50 years of trying to find a logical, reasonable explanation for the rape, pillage and plunder of the Earth and its creatures, humans included, so far the prevailing mantra I've heard for such behavior is, "jobs!"

    And, oh yes, there's also that one about man having dominion over the earth. Dominion is not the same thing as destruction, so if the gods are keeping score, we humans are in serious trouble.

    "Baloney," I say, to the jobs excuse. Those doing this damage, and the politicians they hire to make their actions legal, don't have such gushing empathy for their fellow man that they are harvesting the Earth's resources purely to employ folks. Unless people spend most of their lives with their heads in the sand or are incurably naive, surely they've noticed it's the mighty moguls of industry and conglomerations of corporations who benefit from laying waste to landscapes and once-healthy environments. Oftentimes the more rapacious among them discount human damage with as much disregard as they show for environmental damage.

    On the governmental side of things, we are not paying enough attention to what's going on in the backrooms of power. Our nation's federal lands, which include parks, wilderness areas, forests, rivers (like Arkansas' Buffalo River, the nation's first national river), monuments, seashores, ocean habitats, tribal lands, wildlife refuges, and cultural and historical sites, are in danger of being downgraded, defunded, privatized, turned over to states, and/or cashed in by those in control of Congress and the White House.

    There's a loud circus in Washington, D.C., right now distracting our focus away from more serious things. Rest assured those who have long been quietly licking their chops to extract even more public resources are busy at work. At this moment, they are probably composing yet another executive order or policy change that will remove more protections, which they demean as "regulations," out of the hands of the public and into the jaws of the highest bidders.

    Signed in April, the president's executive order titled "Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act" is a directive to Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the Interior, to "review" federal monument designations. The integrity of this 1906 act, which gives presidents the power to protect land, will most likely be tested on Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, set up by Obama before leaving office. However, about 20 national monument lands over 100,000 acres in size could be affected if Congress or the president can find ways to rescind the current law so that they can sell, transfer or reduce these properties in size. Guess who'll be waiting for that moment with wallet in hand.

    Throughout global history there has been a life and death power struggle for resources. Private gain extraction industries (timber, oil, gas, coal, uranium, etc.), which possess tremendous political clout and endless money, are pitted against a public consisting mostly of individuals, non-profit organizations or tribes struggling to keep public lands and water sources safe and intact. Fortunately, these businesses are in direct conflict with another huge industry that provides even more jobs. Tourism, centered on our country's unique natural landscape, is a multi-billion-dollar business bringing economic lifeblood to hundreds of communities and thousands of people. But, tourism's existence depends on keeping our outdoor treasures clean, safe and original.

    Natural wonders are easily destroyed. Imagine, for example, what gas and oil fracking near Arches National Park might do to the scenery and to the delicate rock marvels in that landscape. Arctic drilling, uranium mining in the Grand Canyon's watershed, strip mining for coal, off-shore oil exploration, clear cutting of forests, pipelines across waterways, pig farms near rivers, etc. are all exploitation practices that destroy our natural world. (For more on federal land issues, read this post.)

    Woody Guthrie sang, "This land is your land, this land is my land." We must remember those words if we are to become active stewards in this custody battle over what happens to our country. Tell your congressmen and the president, " Get your hands off our land!" And mean it.

    Commentary on 06/20/2017

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