Buffalo River 
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  • 17 Sep 2017 7:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    More stepping up

    Buffalo battlers

    By Mike Masterson

    Posted: September 17, 2017 at 1:51 a.m.


    NWAOnline


    As the state of Arkansas waits for the Department of Environmental Quality (wheeze) to complete its review of the permit renewal for the hog factory in our precious Buffalo National River watershed, a lot of public interest in protecting the environment has continued to grow across the state.


    For example, Little Rock attorney Richard Mays, who represents a consortium of environmental groups in legal actions involving the factory's grossly misplaced location, told me a relatively new statewide nonprofit called the Arkansas Environmental Defense Alliance has developed. Its purpose is to monitor and protect the Arkansas environment through policy advocacy and other necessary actions.


    I was impressed by the quality of the board members who will lead this organization in providing public oversight over environmental matters such as potential contamination of the Buffalo from constant spraying of raw hog water on pastures along Big Creek, a major tributary of the national river.


    My hope is these men and women will be ready, willing and quick to act in any way feasible, up to and including the courts, when they have reason to believe our waterbodies or other areas of our environment are threatened.

    Readers likely have little desire to wade through a list of names. But I'm sharing most of them all the same because their standing in our state carries enormous influence, especially as a group. And very few other states have such an organization devoted to serving the environment and as a clearing house for citizens with related problems locally.


    The alliance board consists of Mays, Joe Nix (longtime water quality expert at Ouachita Baptist University), Don Richardson (head of the Natural Resources Commission), Dan Flowers (former director of the state Highway Department), Rob Leflar (law professor at UA), Richard Davies (former director of the state Department of Parks and Tourism), Richard Mason (former commissioner with the state's Pollution Control and Ecology Commission), Sam Cooke (Batesville optometrist and former president of Friends of the White and Norfolk Rivers), Nancy DeLamar and Kay Kelley Arnold (both former directors of the Nature Conservancy of Arkansas), Texarkana Attorney Lance Lee, and former Paragould state Sen. Robert Thompson.


    The alliance is co-sponsoring an environmental policy conference at the Clinton Library on Oct. 27, along with the Clinton School of Public Policy, Arkansas Policy Panel, Sierra Club and Audubon Arkansas.

    "I think the agenda is pretty cutting edge in regard to the topics--particularly in view of current developments," said Mays.


    Meanwhile, in a development related to the hog factory, Mays said he, on behalf of Buffalo River champion Carol Bitting of Jasper, appealed the permit issued to Ellis Campbell doing business as EC Farms. That permit would allow C&H Hog Farm wastes to now be spread over 600+ acres that EC Farms controls in the nearby Little Buffalo River watershed.


    Ellis Campbell and Richard Campbell of C&H are related, and the 600 acres in question until four years ago served as a swine-farrowing operation for about 300 hogs.


    The judge will decide if a new permit is required for C&H to begin using the EC property to spray the karst-laden region with even more raw and potent hog waste.

    "We had a hearing before Circuit Judge John Putman in Jasper last week," said May. "I thought it went pretty well. The judge seems very conscientious. We are awaiting a decision. He could reverse it and send it back to the commission/[Department of Environmental Quality], or affirm it. Then we would have to appeal to the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court."


    The sad truth is in this age where even tax-supported public agencies can seem unable or unwilling to respond to obvious public problems and needs due to political pressures and/or limited resources, a group such as the Environmental Defense Alliance will serve as an invaluable source of advice, answers and action. I know I'll be using them.


  • 12 Sep 2017 10:02 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Fran Alexander: National treasures in peril

    Americans cannot afford erosion of park lands

    By Fran Alexander

    Posted: September 12, 2017 at 1 a.m.


    NWAOnline


    With our country up to its nose holes in water in the east and fires burning everything in their paths in the west, to say we are distracted right now is putting it mildly. Quietly, however, disorienting political maneuvers, many in the form of executive orders, have also been barreling down on everything environmental. From shrinking or dismantling the EPA's work force to the elimination of projects, reports, and especially regulations created for environmental protections, the ruling party in Congress is eviscerating decades of science and policy work.


    The root causes of the physical devastation produced by natural phenomena can be argued until we're all extinct. But, what we humans willingly do or allow to be done to our world is easier to recognize. Amidst much of the morass left from political hatchet swinging are the ravaged protections of our national parks and monuments. Referenced by many as "America's greatest idea," our public lands are juicy plumbs dangling in front of profiteers eager to reap minerals, timber, and recreational franchises (including hotels) from public grasp for private gain. None of their activities protect or preserve our natural treasures, and they are not progress. They are destruction.


    It took generations of grassroots work and political will, which often has to first be bent by public will, to establish the national parks, monuments, rivers, etc., existing in our country today. As a child who was lucky to have parents show me many of these special places, I remember the awe I felt when in the presence of Yellowstone's geysers, the mighty giants in Sequoia National Park, the Grand Canyon's eroded walls of geologic time, Yosemite's 2,425-foot cascade, and crevasses of ice gluing mountains together at Glacier National Park. I think these experiences are what made me who I am today.


    All of these places are bigger than humans can ever pretend to be and contain landscapes grander than almost any others on earth. These places explain to the human psyche that humans are just part of this world, not separate masters over it. Without awe of the paradise our species is fortunate enough to be part of, we tend to only value what is human-made, maybe because that is all we know.

    Political battles are value battles. When the functioning roles of water, land, air, snow, weather, wildlife, plants, etc., are not made a part of how we live, we are ignorant of what it actually takes to survive. We develop a "Who needs it?" attitude, and we substitute buildings and cookie-cutter outdoor spaces for the real things that make our own ecosystems work.


    Folks without drinking water, but wading chest deep through chemical and sewage-laden flood waters last week in Houston may now have a clue of what clean water means to survival. But, without a context of where life's basics originate, even desperate disaster victims may think their water needs can be solved with enough plastic bottles of the stuff.


    Placed on a value spectrum, politically and culturally, are our nation's parks and other public places. Trump's Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has been recommending sizing down some of the national monument lands. The National Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org/onearth/week 21) says Zinke, "plans to increase 'public-private partnerships' -- code for privatizing the management of our national park system." They point out that "our national parks are a public good and therefore should be publicly managed."


    Conservation International's article "The worlds' national parks are not as secure as we think," discusses PADDD, which stands for "protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement [the loss of legal protection for an entire national park or other protected area]." Also, the National Parks Conservation Association lists numerous park issues at: https://www.npca.org/advocacy. For a list with pictures, enter "There are 27 national monuments threatened by Trump's order, " online to see the Huffington Post's coverage of these places.

    Putting our public lands at risk is sold to voters on the premise that the individual states should say how these properties that we all own are managed, sized or sold to the highest bidders (or lowest for political cronies and mineral extractors). Some of these robber barons, like Utah's not-running-for-reelection Jason Chaffetz, have had the audacity of saying such sales would lower the national debt and that these lands "serve no purpose to taxpayers."


    That fella, and his ilk, need to do a little research into the economic values inherent in jobs, tourism and public health related to our public lands. He's a darned fool.

    Commentary on 09/12/2017

  • 10 Sep 2017 8:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    NWAOnline


    After 42 years, Arkansas has not carried out plan to protect state waters from degradation 

    Federal act’s quality standards to protect rivers, lakes run aground in Arkansas


    By Emily Walkenhorst

    Posted: September 10, 2017 at 3:43 a.m.
    Updated: September 10, 2017 at 3:43 a.m.

    Credit: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/RYAN MCGEENEY
    Sarah Clem


    More than 40 years after the passage of the federal Clean Water Act, Arkansas remains one of only two states that hasn't carried out the provision that protects a state's most important waters from degrading.

    Arkansas has not adopted an implementation plan for "anti-degradation," a major provision of the act's water quality standards that refers to the effort to stop rivers and lakes from deteriorating.


    Deterioration can occur in many forms, such as when a body of water has too much dirt or when nutrients like phosphorus or nitrogen build up and form algae.

    Anti-degradation is one of four parts for the water quality standards outlined in the act. The others are "designated uses," which requires states to appoint each water body a particular use, such as fishing or swimming; "water quality criteria," which requires states to adopt standards for substances in water bodies; and "general policies," which refers to policies a state can implement related to water quality.

    "This has been known for a long time that [anti-degradation] is an integral component, something they have to do," said Jessie Green, a former senior ecologist in the water quality planning section for the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and current director of White River Waterkeeper, an advocacy group that works to protect and preserve the White River and its tributaries.

    "We definitely have not been trying to maintain the water quality that we have in the state," Green added.


    Environmental advocates say the anti-degradation provision protects the nation's scenic waterways, but business representatives say implementation of the provision is unlikely to change much other than to require companies and utilities to pay more for engineering studies on cleaner waste technology and disposal methods when applying for discharge permits.


    Cleaner alternative disposal may still allow for some degradation, they say, and water quality standards already protect a water body from degrading past the point of maintaining its designated use.


    "I seriously question whether implementation of anti-degradation policy ... would have changed the outcome of very many permits," said Allan Gates, a Mitchell Williams attorney who has worked with utilities and businesses on water issues.

    But in rare instances, Gates said, anti-degradation processes would create another point that opponents could use to argue against issuing a water discharge permit.

    Only Arkansas and Nevada do not have plans to implement anti-degradation strategy for state waters, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Arkansas has an anti-degradation policy outlined in its Regulation 2 water rules, but it has no accompanying plan to implement that policy. The Clean Water Act requires an implementation plan, and the EPA has asked the state for such a plan for years.

    According to the act, once a state or tribe has determined what a particular water body's use should be -- such as a fishing or drinking source -- then the state or tribe is required to take action to prevent any degradation that might prevent the water body from being used for the stated purpose. 


    The anti-degradation provision of the act says states and tribes also determine the quality of a body of water by labeling it Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 (the highest). The higher quality the water, the more degradation needs to be considered in the permitting process.


    Tier 3 waters, typically thought of as water bodies with exceptional recreational or ecological roles, aren't supposed to degrade at all.

    Tier 2 waters are considered "high quality," with economic, public health or ecological value, according to the EPA. That means that when significant degradation is expected for such waters, water discharge permit applicants must offer an analysis of alternative discharge methods that would degrade the water body less or explain why economic or social conditions justify a more degrading discharge method.

    Tier 1 waters need only to maintain their designated uses.


    States and tribes must adopt anti-degradation policies, and the Clean Water Act further requires an implementation plan for those policies, according to an EPA spokesman.


    Experts say an anti-degradation implementation plan would keep clean waters clean but would not improve dirty waters. Without it, clean waters can degrade, just not below the absolute minimum threshold required to maintain their designated uses.

    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is in charge of developing an implementation plan, which officials say they've been working on for years. More recently, the department formed an internal working group of water quality and technology staff members that has been meeting for "several months," said Caleb Osborne, a department deputy director who oversees the water office.

    Sarah Clem, the department's water quality planning branch manager, said in November that the state evaluated each permit application for potential water degradation but that the department doesn't have an official policy in writing. The department calculates the expected discharge's effect and compares the results with the state's water quality standards and the EPA's health standards. That information is then used to determine permit limits that must be followed to protect a water body's designated use.


    The department doesn't fully categorize water bodies or require certain facilities' permit applications to evaluate the potential cost and discharge of alternative construction plans, Green said. That's important, conservationists say, because adding evaluations can enhance the transparency of the public permitting process.

    Anti-degradation requirements also provide a safety net where water quality standards are inadequate, Green said.


    An evaluation of the proposed permit and alternatives might have changed the terms of what the PECO Processing Plant in Randolph County was allowed to discharge into the Black River, Green said. Part of the Black River, a tributary of the White River, is considered impaired because of its low levels of dissolved oxygen, but the permit doesn't regulate all of the nutrients that could come from the plant and could reduce oxygen levels, Green said. Dissolved oxygen is critical for aquatic life.

    There are a lot of good reasons for restricting a facility's discharge above what is absolutely required by water standards, said Albert Ettinger, an attorney who has worked with conservation groups across the country on Clean Water Act issues.

    "One is we're not all that happy with our water quality standards," he said. "They're not that protective."


    If implemented fully, Green said, anti-degradation would likely require the designation of tributaries of major rivers, such as tributaries of the Buffalo or White rivers, as "high quality waters," or Tier 2 waters.

    OTHER STATES


    Arkansas and Nevada are the only states without implementation plans 42 years after the Clean Water Act was first amended to include anti-degradation policy.

    Implementation plans were explicitly required by a vote of Congress in 1987, but many states adopted plans only within the past decade. Further, environmental advocates argue that many states' plans are incomplete, protecting only some water bodies or implementing only some of the anti-degradation rules.


    Missouri and Iowa have anti-degradation implementation plans, developed years ago after a lawsuit and the threat of a lawsuit. Environmental workers in those states believe the plans have kept clean waters pristine but are skeptical the plans have prevented pollution or would have prevented any facilities from getting permits.

    Every permit is already intended to maintain a water body's designated use, said Adam Schnieders, water quality resources coordinator at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.


    "It's a minimization rather than prevention, if you will," said John Rustige, environmental engineer at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. "A facility is going to go into a certain place, and anti-deg doesn't prevent that facility from being constructed. What that says is, 'Are you going to be able to do a better job or not?'"

    In both states, permit applicants are required to evaluate alternatives to their proposals and select the cleanest options that are within a certain percentage of the cost of the original proposals. In Missouri, the permit applicant must use the cleaner alternative even if it costs up to 20 percent more.

    About one-third of applicants end up selecting cleaner technologies in Missouri after the evaluation process, Rustige said. He estimated that engineering fees range from $5,000 to $10,000 for the extra evaluation.


    "So we're preserving streams and lakes a little bit with this process," Rustige said. "On the other end, there is a bit of a cost to doing this."

    But because a permit applicant isn't necessarily required to pick a technology that won't degrade at all, an anti-degradation plan is sort of a misnomer, according to Jim Malcolm, an engineer with FTN Associates.

    "It doesn't stop degradation, but it doesn't let it occur willy-nilly, that's for dang sure," said Malcolm, who is one of seven representatives on the department's working group of industry experts.


    STATUS IN ARKANSAS

    In Arkansas, anti-degradation has been debated within the Department of Environmental Quality and outside it.


    For years, the EPA has asked the department for clear language on how the state implements its anti-degradation policy, according to correspondence with the department obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


    The state in 2013 submitted a draft Continuing Planning Process document for water policy that the EPA said was inadequate, in part because of the lack of an implementation plan for anti-degradation. The EPA also has listed the development of an anti-degradation implementation plan among its priorities for the state's use of federal funding in recent fiscal years.


    A working group of utility and business groups for more than a year has provided input to the Department of Environmental Quality on the state's water regulations. Those regulations are reported to the EPA in the Continuing Planning Process document.

    Green, now-retired department water division director Ellen Carpenter, and a representative of the Beaver Water District drinking water utility have asked to be a part of the group, but department officials have said the group is informal and that the regulations will be opened for broader public comment later in the year.


    The group has not discussed addressing anti-degradation, department officials said, and the department will consult a yet-to-be-formed working group on anti-degradation. After that, the Continuing Planning Process will go out for stakeholder review, likely in early 2018, department officials said.


    The Continuing Planning Process hasn't been updated since 2000, when it was updated to include an anti-degradation policy but not implementation of that policy.

    Clem said in November that the state's Continuing Planning Process needs to include expanded information on anti-degradation. But she and Osborne disagree on whether the department is accounting for degradation in its permitting process.

    "In the process of developing a permit, we're ensuring that the criteria are met in stream," Clem said.


    Osborne said it is too early to speculate on what the biggest benefits of having an implementation plan are, but he expects that having one would enhance the transparency of the permitting process.

    Allowing transparency is pivotal, Green said, because it would allow the public to have greater input on a proposed permit.

    "That's a component that we don't have now."

    Metro on 09/10/2017


  • 05 Sep 2017 12:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Watch the full KY3-TV video: http://www.ky3.com/content/news/Hog-farm-battle-set-for-new-round-in-court-442748053.html


    A new courtroom battle is scheduled to start tomorrow over a large hog farm in Newton County, Arkansas. 


    We recently visited with one of the women behind the five-year-long fight. She's motivated to protect our nation's first national river. 


    Carol Bitting is known as one of the three grandmas who combined forces to fight a permit that allowed a hog farm near the Buffalo National River. 

    She says, "It is so vital to our well-being. It's important to our nation."

    Carol moved onto her little piece of Buffalo River heaven 16 years ago. 
    But, she now says, "I wouldn't get in it today."


    It all turned sour five years ago with a swine operation. Carol's biggest worry isn't the pigs. It's the poop from a couple thousand animals. 


    Carol says, "There are many other locations that would be suitable for a large confined animal feeding operation, but not the Buffalo River Watershed."

    Just one farm there can spread up to 6 and a half million gallons of liquid animal waste each year. The stuff is spread over some 500 acres.


    It does put nutrients back into the soil. The farm operator didn't answer our calls or emails for a new interview. But, he told us in 2013 they follow regulations there and love the land and water too.


    Jason Henson said, "We all like to hunt and fish and we growed up in Big Creek and Buffalo."


    But, Carol believes the liquid waste can quickly travel down into the thin Swiss cheese-like land in the area. She believes bad stuff will wind up lurking just below the Buffalo's surface.


    Carol says, "We the people, we need to stand up and police them and let them know this is what we want. It's set aside for us and we want to protect it. If we go to the Supreme Court, we're ready."


    Carol is fighting to overturn one of the permits that allows the current operation. The court hearing on September 6th is scheduled to last 2 hour

  • 17 Aug 2017 1:33 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    JBS is the company which owns the contract with C&H Hog Farms.


    Read the full story here 



    Brazil’s JBS S.A., the world’s largest meat-processing company, reported a sharp drop in net profits for the second quarter of 2017. According to the meat-industry website MeatingPlace.com, the company reported a drop of approximately 80 percent in net profits from the same quarter last year.

  • 05 Aug 2017 9:16 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    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 member (Administrator)

    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 member (Administrator)



    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 member (Administrator)

    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 member (Administrator)

    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


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