Buffalo River 
Watershed
Alliance

Thousands Call To Reject Permit - National Parks Traveler

28 Mar 2017 8:14 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

The state of Arkansas is accepting through April 6 public comments regarding a new permit for an industrial hog farm located upstream of Buffalo National River.

The C&H Hog Farms, Inc., operation at Mount Judea is located along Big Creek about six miles upstream of the national river. Under a contract with Cargill, Inc., an international agricultural and food conglomerate, C&H confines approximately 6,500 pigs at a time, making the operation the first of its size and scale in the Buffalo River watershed.

Though it has been operating since 2013 under a general National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, the company is now seeking a change in its permit to one that presumes there will be no waste discharges from the property.

The hog farm is located in a region of karst geology, which is is composed of easily dissolved rocks, such as limestone and dolomite. Via sinkholes and underground caves in the geology, groundwater can flow miles very quickly. In the National Park System, karst geology is perhaps mostly visibly connected to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, but it can also be found along the Buffalo National River and at Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri.

Keeping pollutants out of this geology is particularly important for the Buffalo National River, as its boundaries encompass just 11 percent of the Buffalo River watershed. The C&H Hog Farms' "concentrated animal feeding operation," or CAFO, generates an "estimated nitrogen output ... equivalent to a human population of 7,000, and the phosphorus output is equivalent to 23,000 humans, in a watershed with a total human population of approximately 17,000."

So far, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, more than 14,000 comments have been submitted to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality asking that the new permit be denied.

ADEQ’s contact person for submitting written comments, requesting information regarding the draft permit, or obtaining a copy of the permit and the Statement of Basis is Katherine McWilliams, at 5301 Northshore Drive, North Little Rock, Arkansas 72118-5317,  501-682-0650, or at Water-Draft-Permit-Comment@adeq.state.ar.us.  

In 2012, the state granted C&H a permit for this facility without allowing adequate public input or consultation from the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or local communities. The state permit expired on October 31, 2016. Now, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the ADEQ "have an opportunity to protect America’s first national river by denying the company’s application for a permit 5264-W, which seeks to allow C&H to continue spreading hog waste in this fragile ecosystem," NPCA said.

The feedlot has generated a lot of controversy among environmental groups because of the potential threat it poses to the Buffalo National River. Last fall, water testing in Big Creek downstream of C&H by the Big Creek Research and Extension Team found higher levels of nitrate, total nitrogen, total coliform bacteria, chloride, specific conductance, alkalinity, and total dissolved solids than water samples taken upstream of the farm.

While state testing in 2014 found state limits for E. coli were exceeded both upstream and downstream of the farm, in 2015, higher levels were detected only in the upstream samples.

A lengthy report by the director of the U.S. Geological Survey's Wyoming Water Science Center on these tests and water quality impacts to the national river offered nearly a dozen recommendations, including one for dye tracing studies around the pig feedlot in a bid to determine how surface water enters the surrounding karst topography and show where it exits.

“This is our last chance to protect the Buffalo National River, our country’s first national river and a beloved national park, which belongs to all Americans. Allowing C&H to continue spreading millions of gallons of waste in the Buffalo’s watershed could do irreparable damage to the regional tourism economy and threatens local drinking water,” said Emily Jones, NPCA's senior program manager for the Southeast Region. “Along with thousands of our members and supporters in Arkansas and across the country, NPCA urges Governor Hutchinson to protect this precious resource and keep the Buffalo safe for people to swim, fish, and float.”

The Buffalo National River offers recreational opportunities along 135 miles of free-flowing river, and is a major economic driver for the region. The river welcomed more than 1.7 million visitors in 2016, pumping millions of dollars into nearby communities and supporting local jobs.

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