When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and no volunteer band of citizens fighting for a clean environment has worked harder, longer or more incisively than those trying to save the country's first national river, the Buffalo River of Arkansas. Certainly few activists have had a tougher battle on their hands. However, it's not been Mother Nature's whims and winds that continue to consume thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars, but a clash between fellow humans with different values and priorities.
In essence almost all environmental battles boil down to an equation of how much is too much degradation before tipping points are exceeded, leading to devastation of health, property or even the security of the nation. One environmental question for our so-called leaders, which we must personalize and demand an answer to, is, "How dirty do you want the water you drink to be?" In the case of the Buffalo, the question expands to how much pig poop do you want to paddle through or swim and fish in?
When our Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality tells us just how much pollution they are allowing to drain into that river, we Arkies can decide for ourselves if that's more than we'll tolerate and so can the river's out-of-state visitors. The National Park Service reported in 2011 that 1,160,802 people spent $38,232,000 in area communities surrounding the river, which supported some 582 jobs. You can bet all those millions that these folks didn't come to Arkansas to play in manure-tainted water.
The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and other groups have done the civic work to bring this issue to the people of Arkansas, where the decision about siting and permitting a confined animal feeding operation, known as a CAFO, belonged in the first place. In the case of the C & H Hog Farms Inc., built above a major tributary of the Buffalo River, the public was denied initial involvement. After years of effort to get public notifications of such permits, tonight at 6 p.m. there will be a hearing in Newton County at the Jasper School Cafetorium, 600 School St., regarding the Department of Environmental Quality's willingness to grant this hog farm a permit (Regulation 5).
What does this mean? Essentially that this hog farm could be switched from being under a federal review every five years to an Arkansas permit with no expiration date nor any required reviews. In other words, "go forth and pollute forever; we aren't looking." To call this scandalous is mild. To call it criminal is more to the point. And please understand, this permit is very close to being granted with our state government's blessing.
The pig manure from this hog farm is being spread on hundreds of acres of thin rocky Ozark pastures, which sit atop the eroded limestone (karst) beneath them. It defies logic that water polluted from this waste isn't leaching through this porous Swiss cheese-like underground nor sliding off these hillsides into the watershed. Yet, the Department of Environmental Quality's silence on basic physical and chemical questions regarding this waste, and its interaction with everything and everyone around it, amounts to a denial of reality. And by delaying action to remove this hog operation from the Buffalo River watershed, the state is allowing destruction of this precious national resource and the economic benefit it brings to its people.
What can you do? First, make your voice heard! Write the governor and complain mightily. Attend this hearing tonight in Jasper, if possible. Before 4:30 p.m. March 17 submit a written comment to Water-Draft-Permit-Comment@adeq.state.ar.us or send to the agency's contact person: Katherine McWilliams, 5301 Northshore Drive, North Little Rock, AR 72118-5317, (501) 682-0648. Send a copy to the governor. Hold letter-writing parties. The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance web site has talking points for comments and letters. Write to editors across the state and inform your friends via every media means you have, especially reaching people in other areas who know little about this issue. Attend and give at the fundraisers. The next one is March 12, when "Sunpie" Barnes is playing at George's Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville. Those working to save the Buffalo -- again -- face thousands of dollars in legal and expert testimony costs, so please help out.
The governor and the Department of Environmental Quality need to be told over and over that their decisions about our national river will bring pride or disgrace to the state and to them. Remind them. Then remind them again.
Commentary on 03/07/2017