Buffalo River 


  • 29 Oct 2017 7:09 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Months of delay

    Hog factory permit

    By Mike Masterson

    Posted: October 29, 2017 at 1:50 a.m.


    Call me cynical, skeptical, realistic or an unapologetic voice for the welfare and preservation of the only Buffalo National River we have.

    Whatever else I might be, I'm not the least surprised our state's bungling Department of Environmental Quality (wheeze) has delayed for over six months (and counting) its decision on whether to permanently re-permit C&H Hog Farms, originally allowed into the river's karst-laden watershed in 2012.

    This factory with some 6,500 swine has operated for more than a year on an expired permit that was effective for five years until the agency began considering its application for the new one under a different regulation. The re-permitting process included 50 prescribed days of public input that drew 20,000 comments (each requiring an agency response).

    The agency's long delay makes no sense to me when the reason it gives is needing more time to thoroughly analyze and acknowledge those public responses and discover answers to basic questions it should have demanded before wrongheadedly permitting this factory into our state's most environmentally sensitive region.

    So what's the real reason behind the agency dragging its feet? Is it delaying in hopes of quelling the widespread and sincere public opinion against their actions? Perhaps to buy more time to legally bolster its actions?

    After all, valued readers, every adult in Arkansas can see what a serious mistake this approval was in the first place. Even former Democrat Gov. Mike Beebe publicly called it his biggest regret in office. I wouldn't want such a doleful legacy forever draped around my neck either if (and I believe when) the country's first national river needlessly becomes contaminated. That also goes for current Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who knows all too well of his predecessor's lament.

    Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, prefers to believe the agency is moving slowly in consideration of the legal implications raised by many of those public comments over issuing this factory that generates and spreads millions of gallons of raw waste annually a fresh permanent permit.

    Yet Watkins says C&H has been operating as usual with an expired permit and the Department of Environmental Quality's blessings since May 2016. He said he's written the agency to learn when it will make its decision. "The fact that the office of general counsel responded to my request suggests the legal ramifications of their decision are under consideration," said Watkins.

    "Nonetheless, they did give the public a strict deadline for submitting comments (4:30 p.m. on April 6), and we find it unreasonable that, after six months, they cannot provide at least an estimated completion date for a decision. It's a serious loophole in the regulations when a facility with an expired permit, especially one as controversial as C&H, is allowed to continue to operate and spread waste indefinitely."

    Meanwhile, the agency on Sept. 19 sent a certified letter containing a list of six requests to C&H owner Jason Henson. The agency finally was requesting pertinent information that obviously should have been provided when it reviewed the factory's initial permit more than five years ago.

    Talk about clumsily fumbling the ball before this hog game even began! Common sense and due diligence tell me these questions should have been fully answered before a permit was even considered, much less awarded.

    One might rightly say after five years and counting that thousands of hogs were long ago out of the barn (OK, I'm done).

    The letter gives Henson 90 days to respond by providing all geologic investigations performed for the facility, the construction plans for the factory's waste management system as well as its waste management system as built.

    It also requested "the following documentation to supplement the Nutrient Management Plan (NMP): a. A list of the nearest waterbodies, including all nearby streams, for all land application sites listed in the NMP. The list shall include the name of the waterbody and the distance to all relevant land application sites. b. Maps for all land application sites with updated buffers ... in accordance with [relevant regulations], which includes a 100-foot buffer (in all directions) for streams including intermittent streams, ponds, lakes, springs, sinkholes, rock outcrops, wells and water supplies. In addition, the buffer from Mount Judea sport complex shall be updated to reflect a 500-foot buffer from that complex. ..."

    In closing, the Department of Environmental Quality said it wanted a comprehensive maintenance plan for the pond levee, including an inspection schedule.

    Who knows how long it will be for all that back and forth between the agency and Henson to play out as the factory continues spreading its endless supply of untreated waste in fields along Big Creek, a major tributary of the Buffalo flowing just six miles downstream?


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

    Editorial on 10/29/2017

  • 27 Oct 2017 1:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Listen at KUAF Radio - Ozarks At Large

    Second Arkansas Industrial Hog Breeding CAFO Proposed in Johnson County Raises Stink 


  • 26 Oct 2017 3:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    News Releases from Headquarters

    EPA Releases Guidance on Reporting Air Emissions of Hazardous Substances from Animal Waste at Farms


    Contact Information:


    (WASHINGTON) — Today, EPA is releasing guidance to assist farmers in reporting air releases of hazardous substances from animal waste at farms. EPA is making this information available to provide time for farmers to review and prepare for the reporting deadline, currently set for November 15, 2017

    “EPA is working diligently to address undue regulatory burden on American farmers,” said Administrator Scott Pruitt. “While we continue to examine our options for reporting requirements for emissions from animal waste, EPA’s guidance is designed to help farmers comply with the current requirements.”

    On December 18, 2008, EPA published a final rule that exempted farms from reporting air releases of hazardous substances from animal waste. On April 11, 2017, the DC Circuit Court vacated this final rule. In response to a request from EPA, the DC Circuit Court extended the date by which farms must begin reporting these releases to November 15, 2017. Unless the court further delays this date, all farms (including those previously exempted) that have releases of hazardous substances to air from animal wastes equal to or greater than the reportable quantities for those hazardous substances within any 24-hour period must provide notification of such releases.

    The EPA guidance information includes links to resources that farmers can use to calculate emissions tailored to specific species of livestock. To view EPA’s guidance and Frequently Asked Questions on reporting air emissions from animal waste: https://www.epa.gov/epcra/cercla-and- epcra-reporting-requirements-air-releases-hazardous-substances-animal-waste-farms.

    https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-releases-guidance-reporting-air-emissions-hazardous-substances-animal-waste-farms 1/2

    10/26/2017 EPA Releases Guidance on Reporting Air Emissions of Hazardous Substances from Animal Waste at Farms | U.S. EPA News Releases | US EPA

    EPA will revise this guidance, as necessary, to reflect additional information to assist farm owners and operators to meet reporting obligations. Interested parties may submit comments or suggestions by November 24, 2017.


  • 26 Oct 2017 2:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    See 417 Magazine for full story with photos and sidebar

    Beneath the Surface: Controversy 

    on the Buffalo National River

    Since C&H Hog Farms opened its 2,500-sow operation in the Buffalo National River watershed in 2013, concerns involving the river’s safety and quality have been on the rise. We headed south to investigate the farm’s practices, learn about the potential threats to the watershed and examine the heart-felt passion of the many people involved.


    DISCLAIMER: The information in this article was fact checked and accurate at press time, but 417 Magazine cannot guarantee its accuracy indefinitely.

    The Buffalo National River flows freely through nearly 150 of the most scenic miles in northwest Arkansas. It becomes a point of beauty for everything in its path, cutting its way through lush Ozarks forests and hugging the feet of giant limestone bluffs. The water takes on a peaceful tone as it passes over rocks and rushes through rapids, creating sounds as intoxicating as the river’s views. Together they’re a magical thing—something that’s more than enough to make you forget your worries for a while.

    In 1972, President Richard Nixon designated the pristine waterway as the first national river of the United States, passing a sense of ownership along to each and every one of us. It’s our river—the residents of 417-land who frequent the area for weekend float trips and hiking adventures. It’s Arkansas’ river, often referred to as the state’s crown jewel and proven to contribute to the nearby economy. The river brought in 1,785,358 visitors and $77,556,600 in 2016 alone. It belongs to Texans and Louisianans and Missourians and Oklahomans—to all its regular guests who come to paddle downstream and camp along its rocky shoreline. But perhaps more than anyone else, it belongs to the Arkansans who live in Newton, Searcy, Marion and Baxter counties—those who have grown up with the river in their own backyards.

    There has been an uproar about this national treasure in recent years. In 2013, C&H Hog Farms, a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), began operating in the small Newton County town of Mount Judea, which is in the river’s watershed. Because water and nutrients that seep into the watershed’s groundwater might eventually make their way to the river, many fear that the farm’s waste could cause damage to the stream. C&H and the river’s watershed are also situated on karst topography—a landscape sitting atop eroded limestone riddled with fractures, fissures, sinkholes, caverns and other voids—and some say this is cause for even greater worry. Concerns continue to arise, as the river was included in American Rivers’ 2017 America’s Most Endangered Rivers list due to the possible threat of pollution. The report was accompanied by photos of an unprecedented algal bloom.

    Others say there’s no reason for such concern. The American Rivers’ list was published just four months after the farm’s co-owner Jason Henson was awarded the Stanley E. Reed Leadership Award from the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation. Arkansas Farm Bureau also recognizes Henson and the farm’s other co-owners—Henson’s cousins Philip and Richard Campbell—for their environmental concern regarding the river and the farming techniques they use to keep it sacred and safe. The farmers are known for their cooperation with the Big Creek Research and Extension Team, which was put in place by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe and monitors the farm and its effects on the river and watershed. With multiple scientists and teams studying the issue, a lofty question is posed: Is the Buffalo National River really at risk? 

    The People’s Passion

    Newton County resident Gordon Watkins wears a weathered blue hat that reads “My Blue Heaven” in embroidered letters. This is the name of the rental cabin he owns on the Little Buffalo River, one of the Buffalo National River’s tributaries, and this cabin sits directly across the river from his home. “I’m often river-bound,” Watkins says, his salt-and-pepper speckled hair peeking out from the sides of his cap. “We have to canoe to get out sometimes. We’d canoe our kids out to the school bus at times when they were still in school.” Watkins originally moved to the area in 1977, purchasing land on which he would start an organic farm and later his rental property. “Around here, you’ve got to do alittle bit of everything to make a living,” he says.

    The river and its surrounding streams have been a part of Watkins’ life for 40 years. Today, he’s the president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (BRWA), a volunteer, nonprofit organization created in direct response to the approval and opening of C&H Hog Farms near Big Creek, one of the Buffalo National River’s major tributaries. “Since 2013, I’ve probably spent 20 hours a week on stuff related to this,” Watkins says, speaking to his involvement with BRWA. The nonprofit group is one of several environmental organizations that opposes the location of the hog farm, fearing that its estimated 2.5 million gallons of liquid waste per year will eventually end up contaminating the river and groundwater. Watkins says BRWA has two primary goals: to see the farm close or relocate to what many might consider a more appropriate area and to make sure that no similar facilities or CAFOs—concentrated animal feeding operations—open within the Buffalo National River watershed.

    Watkins first heard of a hog farm coming into the Buffalo National River watershed in late 2012. “They had issued their permit in August 2012 very quietly with no public notice,” Watkins says. “We heard about it in December, I guess—that was the first inkling that we heard. I have full confidence that had there been a public comment period then this thing would never have been located there. There would have been too much of an outcry about it.” Typically these types of permits require more notification, Watkins says. “The county authorities are notified as well as neighboring landowners and newspapers, et cetera,” Watkins says. “But because this was the first of its kind of this type of permit that was issued, the notification requirements all fell through the cracks.” 

    The lack of notification is something that many individuals discuss, and they all point the wrongdoing to the state. “We lay the blame at the feet of ADEQ,” Watkins says, referring to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. ADEQ could not provide comments relating to C&H because another permitting action for the facility was under review at press time. “They’re the ones who issued the permit and didn’t do their due diligence when they approved it,” Watkins says as he
    discusses the state agency. 

    Fellow BRWA board member Ellen Corley, who has lived in Newton County since 1977, agrees. “Nowhere is the alliance against these farmers,” Corley says, referring to the local families who own and operate C&H Hog Farms. “Nowhere. And sometimes the opposition puts it that way. They’ll say, ‘Now these are good, Christian people. What are you doing? Why are you against them?’ But no. That’s not the issue. ADEQ wrongly permitted it and put it in the wrong place and allowed it to stay in the wrong place.”

    Along with many others, Corley has had a longtime connection to the river. “As my children were growing up, in the summer we recreated at the Buffalo every Sunday afternoon,” she says. “My children learned to swim in the Buffalo. They were baptized at the Ponca low-water bridge.” As Corley speaks about the farm’s location, there is a hint of sadness crackling her voice. It weighs on her face. “When this issue came up, it was really just like, Why?,” Corley says. “Why would you put something like that in the watershed of a national river?”

    Marti Olesen, a fellow BRWA board member and former Springfield resident who moved to Ponca, Arkansas, in 1989, agrees. “Yes, we do have a small business,” says Olesen, whose family owns a historic general store, cabins and a canoe concession along the river. “And that’s important. But to me, the most important thing is that there are so few of these rivers. Rivers this clean are so rare.” Olesen speaks of the days when she moved to Arkansas 30 years ago; her husband was one reason, and the river was the other. “To see it destroyed because of something that was misplaced in the first place, well—that would break my heart,” she says.

    Farming in the Watershed

    Jason Henson, farm co-owner and the “H” in C&H Hog Farms, politely declined to talk about anything involving concerns of the farm’s location for this article. “I don’t think his intent is to avoid anything,” says Steve Eddington, vice president of public relations at Arkansas Farm Bureau. “It’s just that he’s played this game before, and I don’t think he feels like he was treated fairly. As a result, he has the attitude of, ‘I’ll just let my work stand for itself, and the science that is behind it all stand for me and speak for me, and I’ll let it all stand on that.’” Eddington is referring to the public opinion that has seemingly arisen about the families who own the farm—the opinion that the farm families don’t care about the Buffalo National River.

    Eddington argues this couldn’t be further from the truth. Due to his role at Arkansas Farm Bureau, he has relationships with both the Henson and Campbell families—the “C” in C&H Hog Farms—and he says they are all very much in support of the river’s safety. “Jason Henson was baptized in Big Creek,” Eddington says, his words putting his thick Southern accent on display. Big Creek is the Buffalo National River tributary situated near C&H, and it’s the main concern of many enthusiasts. “He taught his daughter to swim there,” Eddington says. “To suggest that he doesn’t have as much passion about it as person X—that’s nonsense.” Eddington himself also has a passion for the stream. “In the 40 years that I’ve lived in Arkansas, I’ve probably been to the Buffalo River 30 times,” he says.

    Henson and the Campbells have had family living in the watershed for at least eight or nine generations. “It’s not like someone new just came into the area and decided to build a hog farm,” says Evan Teague, a professional engineer and vice president, commodity and regulatory affairs, at Arkansas Farm Bureau. Teague has been going to the Buffalo National River since he was a kid—he and his dad used to take their camper there for mini getaways. “Prior to Jason going into business with them, Phillip and Richard owned a hog farm,” Teague says. “They had excellent environmental records.”

    After Jason and his wife, Tana, went to college and had a stint in the corporate world, they decided to move back to Mount Judea. It’s the small, familiar town where they grew up and where they graduated from high school. It’s where Jason wanted to join in the family farm business with his cousins.

    “Hog farms in the Buffalo River watershed are not uncommon,” Teague says. “This is nothing new. There have been hog farms in the Buffalo River watershed since back in the ’70s, ’80s, even the ’90s.” C&H is home to 2,500 sows, which, of course, proposes the numbers argument. But this can also be seen from another point of view. “There are fewer sows associated with concentrated animal feeding operations in the Buffalo River watershed now than there were 20, 30 and 40 years ago,” Teague says. 

    The numbers are familiar to Teague, as there was a similar instance in the watershed some 20 years ago. “You can go back and look at the issue,” Teague says. “Go back and look at the mid-1990s. A new hog farm was proposed for the Buffalo River watershed. I think this one was proposed to be right on the Buffalo River.” The proposed farm would have been closer to the Buffalo than C&H, which is located six miles from the actual river. There was an outcry by the public in the ’90s case as well, and ADEQ initiated a study to monitor the farms and farming techniques that existed there—specifically the regulations regarding manure management. “Yes, at the time, there were some issues with those farms,” Teague says. “Those issues were not related to the location of the farms or leaking manure storage ponds, but rather manure management practices. The study resulted in changes to Arkansas’ nutrient management planning and continuing education requirements for farmers, which are still largely intact today.” Teague continues to argue that with these changes and the far better technology and farming techniques that exist today, C&H is well equipped to operate in a way that does not harm the environment, and they do so. “That’s kind of why we have stood steadfastly behind C&H,” Teague says. Since the farm’s initial permit application, the state has changed the public comment notification requirement for the general CAFO permit. “They did everything they were told they had to do,” Teague says of the farmers. “From a right-to-farm perspective—that’s kind of where we’re coming at this from—they did everything anybody asked them to do. What else can you expect a landowner or a farmer to do?”

    The Concerns About Karst

    Ask anyone who opposes the farm’s location their reason for doing so, and the area’s karst topography will be one of the first things they mention. Karst refers to the landscape containing limestone that has been partially eroded—it’s been compared to the makeup of Swiss cheese. “There are a lot of assumptions with water quality monitoring that go out the window when you’re in karst environments,” says Jessie Green, executive director and waterkeeper for White River Waterkeeper.

    Green formerly worked as a senior ecologist for ADEQ, but she left the state organization to start this nonprofit organization, which is a part of Waterkeeper Alliance. She’s well-versed on water quality, reciting facts and figures as quickly and confidently as most people recite the alphabet. Green and many others argue that if C&H were located on a typical landscape in a watershed near a river, there would be sufficient data to look back on and use for determinations. Protecting the river through these evaluations could be more scientifically accurate. But karst makes this much more of a challenge, they say. “You have to visualize two layers,” says Caven Clark, who works for the National Park Service. “One is the surface watershed, and one is the karst watershed. Both are equally important, and both are equally susceptible to the factors which compromise their quality.”

    Carol Bitting, a Newton County resident who has lived on the Little Buffalo River for more than 15 years, is also very familiar with the area’s karst landscape. She knows the river inside and out—she’s floated it, backpacked along it and even swam most of it over and over throughout the years. And she’s also explored the area around it. “Me and my husband met because we’re both cavers,” says Bitting. Bitting’s husband, Chuck, works for the National Park Service, and one of his duties there is acting as a cave specialist. Carol has volunteered to explore many of the caves in the watershed with him. “Traveling through caves and being a caver—you see how that water flows,” Bitting says. “A good example of this is to go to Top of the Rock and sit there and look at what can happen.” Bitting is referring to the sinkhole that collapsed at Top of the Rock in 2015. 

    In an attempt to figure out how water moves in this karst landscape area, John Van Brahana, who holds a Ph.D. in hydrogeology, formed the Karst Hydrogeology of the Buffalo National River (KHBNR) team, which is now sponsored by the Patagonia Foundation. KHBNR performed a large dye tracing study to learn where the water flows, and Bitting and other volunteers spent hundreds of hours helping out. Teresa Turk, a scientist who brings decades of experience with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the KHBNR team, says the findings were huge. “The dye from the injection site, which was in really close proximity to where manure was being spread—it traveled almost over two miles in less than a week underneath a fairly large ridge—what we would almost call a mountain in the Ozarks,” Turk says. Turk moved back to northwest Arkansas five years ago to be near the Buffalo River, but her earliest memory there is exploring fish through child-sized goggles at age 10. Today, she fears for the safety of those fish and the Buffalo National River as a whole. “The overall implication of this study is that the hydrology out there is really complex,” Turk says. “The dispersal of nutrients is wide, broad and has far-reaching implications to the whole area. Manure is not being constrained to just that area. It’s going wide and far. When you spread almost 3 million gallons of hog manure every year, it’s gotta go somewhere.”

    Others, including the team at Arkansas Farm Bureau, note that they are also aware of the concerns that come with karst topography. “The opposition has alleged that Farm Bureau and the others have failed to acknowledge the presence of karst, which is not true,” Teague says. “We realize there’s karst in that part of the state. There always has been. And guess what? There has also always been animal agriculture in that part of the state, whether it’s poultry, whether it’s hogs, whether it’s cattle—and you don’t see a variation. We’re not aware of any major impacts of subsurface groundwater as a result of animal agriculture in that part of the state.”

    Part of the reason karst doesn’t affect the watershed, Teague argues, is because of the depth of the soil. “What they also fail to tell you is that there’s three to four feet of topsoil, particularly in the areas around Big Creek,” Teague says. He goes on to speak about the dye-tracing studies, but states that an old 40-foot hand-dug well was used as an injection point. This is not representative of how the farm operates, Teague argues, as the manure is applied to pastures in small, regulated amounts.

    Andrew Sharpley, who holds a Ph.D. in soil science and works for the Division of Agriculture in the Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences Department at the University of Arkansas, was selected to lead the Big Creek Research and Extension Team (BCRET) that was put in place by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe. The study started in fall 2013 in an effort to provide scientifically rigorous information on any potential impacts of the farm on Big Creek, including levels of bacteria and nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, and it has published quarterly reports since that time. When Sharpley speaks about the karst, he understands the concern and says it is something they’re cautious of. “We know there’s karst, and we know there are sinkholes,” Sharpley says. “There’s a buffer around those [where] they can’t apply manure. There’s geology mapping that gives a pretty good idea where sinkholes—especially those that come to the surface—are, and those are obvious and mapped on a farm plan. There’s a 100-foot buffer around them, and they’re required not to apply there.”

    A Closer Look at the Farm 

    C&H Hog Farms is a privately owned farm that originally contracted with Cargill, a large, privately held corporation involved in trading, purchasing and distributing grain and other agricultural commodities. In July 2015, JBS USA Pork entered an agreement with Cargill to acquire the company’s U.S.-based pork business, and this included C&H Hog Farms. C&H’s current contract is with JBS, and JBS supplies the hogs. Cheri Schneider, who works in communications for JBS USA, sent the following statement: “C&H Farm is an independent, locally-owned and operated family farm that raises hogs under contract for JBS USA,” it said. “We do not control or own the farm; however, it is our understanding that C&H is fully compliant with all applicable regulations and standards and continues to make significant investments to ensure environmental compliance.”

    C&H is a farrow-to-wean operation. It is home to 2,500 sows, and those sows give birth to piglets. The piglets are raised to a size of about 12 to 15 pounds, and then they are shipped to other states. They are finished and slaughtered in surrounding states including Texas, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, and the meat is sold across the U.S. and possibly overseas. But it’s not the farming process that BRWA board members and others are concerned about; it’s what happens to the waste from these sows and piglets. 

    “There’s a line that goes around that says hogs produce as much waste as six or eight people do,” Watkins says, speaking on behalf of the BRWA. “And that’s a fact. They produce copious amounts of feces and urine. So this operation with 2,500 sows produces more waste than the city of Harrison—a city of 12,000 people.” Watkins goes on to explain that 12,000 is a conservative number, and some people quote the waste from C&H to be equivalent to something closer to 20,000 to 30,000 humans. “Well, the city of Harrison has a waste-water treatment plant,” Watkins says. “You know, it goes through this elaborate system to purify it before it’s disposed of, ultimately. This CAFO does not do anything like that. They store it in a pond, then they spray the raw waste on the fields. Can you imagine the city of Harrison doing that?” 

    John Bailey, director of environmental and regulatory affairs with Arkansas Farm Bureau, explains the other side of this argument. “Essentially, what you have is oversized lagoons with 18-inch compacted clay liners, sitting on top of a clay outcropping, much of what can be used as a clay liner itself,” says Bailey, who is from Springdale, Arkansas, and floats the Buffalo National River annually. These ponds being oversized, as well as the lining that has formed, are considered measurements of safety against seepage and leakage. The liquid waste from the farm is stored in these holding ponds until it is spread on some 35 fields permitted to be used by the farm. “But the real science behind this application are the soils,” says Bailey, who is also a professional engineer. “Soils do all the work to purify the water. Sure, if you just want to talk about karst and take the soils away, yes, that’s a problem. But the soils are there, and they do their job.” Sharpley from BCRET agrees. “That soil acts as a natural buffer for cleansing the water that moves through it,” he says. “The soil varies in thickness. Any rainfall, sludge, slurry, manure—it has got to go through several feet of soil before it gets to what we might think of as karst rock layers.”

    Many of these spraying fields are owned by other area farmers, and many are planted with Bermuda grass and fescue, which Teague says were approved in the farm’s nutrient management plan due to their absorption rates of the nutrients that can become oversaturated—particularly the phosphorus and nitrates that could threaten water quality. Teague also argues that C&H’s application rates are more than conservative. “If you take that two and a half million gallons [of waste] and just assume that you would apply all 2.5 million gallons over their available land application acreage, it would be less than one-eighth of an inch,” Teague says. “And they don’t apply it all at one time, or all at the same time.” Also due to the nutrient management plan and with their permit, C&H can apply at either low or medium rates (risk categories include low, medium,high and very high). “ADEQ set the limit to say you cannot apply at high or very high rates,” Bailey says. “Every application is at low. [Henson’s] phosphorus index has to spit out a low risk in order for him to apply. It’s not medium—it’s low. And that’s his choice.” 

    Bailey goes on to state C&H might even be a benefit to the watershed. “Everyone perceives that there will be an increase in the amount of nutrients to the Buffalo River,” Bailey says. What people don’t realize, Bailey says, is that C&H Hog Farms is permitted to apply waste on fields and pastures, and these fields and pastures were long in existence prior to C&H ever being in operation. Since these fields already existed and were being farmed, they were receiving fertilizer application, whether through chicken litter or commercial fertilizer products. “I’d like to point out that they don’t need a permit to do that,” Bailey says. “So, if they could get a truckload of chicken litter, they’d put it out. With C&H, they have only a permitted amount they can put out, so it’s 100 percent managed. In reality, nutrients could actually be reduced in the watershed as a result of C&H being in operation.” A decrease in nutrients would be considered good.

    Wading through Murky Waters

    When it comes to worries of the watershed, the location of C&H is not the only cause for concern, and people who fall on both sides of the issue will tell you that. “I assume that we have a lot of issues with failing septic tanks throughout the watershed,” White River Waterkeeper’s Green says. “We also have high E. coli.” There is an additional concern regarding feral hogs and algae. “There was a really large algal bloom in 2016, and there was another in 2017,” says Turk from KHBNR. Some say the blooms might be related to waste from the farm, but others, including Turk, say there’s no way to prove that at this time. “This river is in trouble, and not just from the hog farm,” Turk says. 

    One thing that gives some individuals hope is the talk of microbial source tracking. This is a set of techniques used to determine the source offecal indicator bacteria. “Microbial source tracking will help us figure out our sources, but also help us figure out what our next steps need to be,” Green says. She hopes to start the tracking through her role as White River waterkeeper one day in the future, and she plans to start collecting samples for it next spring. A slight problem with it, however, is that even if the tracking determines pollution from a specific source, such as hogs, it might be from feral hogs, or it might be from C&H hogs, or it might be from any other hogs located and farmed within the river’s watershed. 

    As more time passes, there will also be more conclusive data available from BCRET’s study—it was planned to be a five-year study from the start. The quarterly reports available today can all be viewed online, but even these findings are interpreted in a variety of ways. “At the moment, we haven’t seen any dramatic changes, trends or shifts,” says  Sharpley, who also specifically stated BCRET does not claim to be on a particular side of the issue. He says it takes time to come to reliable conclusions for various reasons. “We want to make sure that, over the long term, the ability for the soil to buffer those nutrients isn’t compromised,” Sharpley says. One thing that’s for sure, though, is that the watershed is under close watch, and particularly in the Big Creek area. “It’s being looked at more intensely then probably anywhere else in the country,” Sharpley says.

    The farm’s cooperation helps. “Jason himself has said—and that’s why he agreed to subject himself to such a rigorous study through the BCRETprocess—he said, ‘If I’m impacting this area and this watershed, I want to know before anybody else so I can fix the problem,’” Teague says. “And that’s why he agreed to do the study and involve BCRET, because he wanted to know himself. He said, ‘If I find that something I’m doing is not working the way it should, I’ll change it.’” 

    Whether Henson will ever need to change anything is yet to be determined. One thing that’s obvious, though, is that each and every person involved has a passion for the Buffalo National River and its watershed. The very place where Jason Henson himself was baptized and where 417-landers go for weekend float trips. Where Ellen Corley took her kids each Sunday and where Teresa Turk first fell in love with aquatic life. Where Arkansas Farm Bureau employees go on annual float trips. “Farm Bureau has many staff and many members that enjoy recreation and outdoors,” Teague says, explaining the organization’s passion for the Buffalo National River, as well as their strong support of the right-to-farm law. “I think—the whole point to all of this is—we believe that it can all coexist.”

  • 16 Oct 2017 3:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Hearings wrap up on Buffalo River watershed plan

    By Emily Walkenhorst 

    JASPER — Arkansas officials and a contractor held their final meeting last week asking stakeholders for input on how they should write a plan to conserve the area surrounding the state’s most visited river.

    The contractor, Little Rock-based FTN Associates, will compile about a year’s worth of research and stakeholder input and issue a draft Buffalo River Watershed Management Plan within the next month, said Kent Thornton, a systems ecologist for FTN who has led four public meetings on the plan.

    The Buffalo River Watershed Management Plan would identify ways in which landowners can voluntarily improve the environment surrounding the Buffalo. It would focus on actions that landowners not currently subject to regulatory oversight could take. The plan would not be regulatory, but it could be used by landowners to help get funding from a dwindling pot of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants.

    The plan itself is funded with EPA grant money, announced last fall by Gov. Asa Hutchinson as a part of a push to discuss conservation of the Buffalo River after years of outcry over the state’s permitting of the first large industrial hog farm in the river’s watershed.

    The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission hired FTN to produce the plan, which would be one of 14 the commission has for rivers across the state.

    While some people have expressed interest in doing more for the Buffalo, some have said they think a watershed management plan would be a good start.

    About 25 people attended the final stakeholder meeting Thursday, voicing their concerns about what can be addressed in the Buffalo River plan and how conservation programs that might be recommended in it would be funded.

    One person asked if the plan could recommend that the state give $1 million annually toward conservation efforts that would then be matched using other funding sources.

    Natural Resources Commission Deputy Director Ryan Benefield said the commission would not lobby the governor and that local funding would be key to implementing any conservation efforts in the area.

    “We’re not going to get this done through state funding alone,” he said.

    The EPA funding that the commission receives for such projects has decreased, and Benefield noted that there are 13 other watershed management plans calling for millions of dollars in conservation projects across Arkansas.

    One attendee asked who advocates for the Buffalo.

    “We’re hoping that y’all do,” Benefield said to some laughter in the Carroll Electric Community Room in Jasper.

    He mentioned that local groups fund a large part of projects in the Illinois River watershed in Northwest Arkansas, then ask the commission for additional money, which it often gives.

    “These projects are not necessarily done by government,” he said.

    “It’s really local groups that come together that decide they want to do a project … and then we assist them.”

    So far, the watershed management plan process has identified several conservation practices and their expected impact on each of six critical subwatersheds. Those subwatersheds refer to the areas around six Buffalo tributaries within the Buffalo’s watershed.

    They were selected as priorities in the plan based on their conditions using data through the end of 2015.

    Those subwatersheds are Flatrock, Tomahawk, Calf, Bear, Brush and lower Big creeks.

    Middle Big Creek, which many opponents of C&H Hog Farms wanted to be a subwatershed, did not finish in the top six in FTN’s analysis, although Buffalo River Watershed Alliance President Gordon Watkins said he thinks it might have if data from 2016 and 2017 collected by state scientists had been included. Those data, he said, show higher nitrate and lower dissolved oxygen levels.

    According to FTN Associates, the levels of nitrates and other substances has increased in those six Buffalo tributaries over the years because of wastewater treatment plants and nearby pastures.

    Closing the difference between the 2005-15 median levels and the 1985-94 median levels — considered the target levels — would require reductions of 32 percent to 70 percent in the six creeks.

    Target E. coli levels would require reductions of 44 percent to 76 percent for four of the creeks.

    FTN has identified possible reductions in nitrogen, coliform bacteria, sediment and phosphorus through prescribed animal grazing, stream buffers, pasture planting and management, and excluding animals from streams.

    The estimated cost of those practices in just the Calf Creek watershed? About $3.1 million.

    FTN also recommends greater planning; road maintenance; revegetation; prescribed burns; trail and streamside management; identifying failing wastewater treatment plants; continued monitoring of pollutants and trash; and studies of dissolved oxygen, sources of pollutants and other things. Some research has already shown that pollution in Mill Creek is coming from the Crooked Creek watershed, in addition to the Buffalo River watershed, Thornton said.

    At the meeting, White River Waterkeeper Executive Director Jessie Green asked that FTN recommend robust data collection and education of the watershed’s private well owners about what could be in their water.

    She also would like to see greater oversight of older septic tanks not subject to more recent requirements.

    “We think there’s a lot of potential for septic tank failure in the watershed,” she said.

    For Watkins, factoring wastewater treatment plants and hog farms into the plan would be ideal.

    But that’s not possible, he said, because those facilities are already regulated through the permits they have from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

    That’s frustrating to him because of how much a large hog farm or wastewater treatment plants for two cities — Jasper and Marshall — can affect the Buffalo and its tributaries.

    “I think it’s kind of a shiny object,” he said of the watershed management plan.

    Still, he attended the planning meetings and thinks the plan will be beneficial.

    “I think it’ll be a good foundational document,” he said.

    The Buffalo River Watershed Management Plan will be open for stakeholder comment — which means anyone can comment — for about 30 days, Thornton said. Then, FTN will review and respond to the comments before finalizing the document.

    For it to be an official watershed management plan, the EPA must approve of it, he said.

    Print Headline: Hearings wrap up on Buffalo River watershed plan

  • 15 Oct 2017 7:21 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    No hogs in watershed

    Governor Hutchinson, do the right thing. Put a stop to commercial hog farming in the Buffalo River watershed before it's too late. This can be your legacy. The governor who saved the Buffalo again, or the governor who turned a blind eye and allowed the pollution of the nation's first national river.



  • 14 Oct 2017 5:18 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    MASTERSON ONLINE: Overlooking the obvious

    By Mike Masterson

    Posted: October 14, 2017 at 2:17 a.m.


    Pretend your job as a volunteer watchdog (assigned by the governor) is to identify vehicles that continuously spew clouds of dangerous exhaust along the interstate. The state is particularly aware of one poison-emitting truck that drives the interstate day and night. Ironically, the state has officially sanctioned and licensed this enormous vehicle.

    But there’s a problem when it comes to fulfilling your responsibility.

    You’re allowed to report on other vehicle discharges with the exception of this truck because the state supposedly is officially monitoring its foul emissions.

    While not a perfect comparison, it’s close to the situation created last year by Gov. Asa Hutchinson after the widespread public outcry arose over our state permitting a hog factory into the precious Buffalo National River watershed along Big Creek at Mount Judea. Big Creek runs alongside the factory’s waste spray fields then six miles later directly into the Buffalo.

    Rather than close the factory out of valid concerns for preserving the Buffalo’s water quality, the governor in 2016 chose to create a volunteer committee with a pacifying title: Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee (I prefer Reaction Committee).

    This group, led by the Department of Environmental Quality (wheeze) that inexplicably allowed the hog factory into the watershed to begin with, and staffed by the directors of four other state agencies, reportedly was formed to address water-quality concerns with a management plan throughout the watershed which ensures the Buffalo remains safe. Accordingly, the committee is to “establish measurable objectives, set achievable action items, establish durable partnerships, share agency resources, and inform policymakers and the general public of relevant progress.”

    Now there’s a mouthful. How about something simpler: “Protect our sacred Buffalo River at all costs.”

    The group’s first-year priorities include developing a stakeholder forum, initiating development of a watershed management plan, identifying early actions to “jump start” improvements, and prioritizing future research needs.

    This Beautiful Buffalo [re]action group this week issued initial findings that include recommendations for monitoring six tributary subwatersheds, except for the middle part of Big Creek, the tributary most obviously threatened. The committee says it isn’t authorized to include that part of Big Creek as a point-source of hog-waste pollution since that kind of oversight falls under the agency that wrongheadedly approved this factory’s location.

    Hmm. I see. But not really, if you are objectively seeking truth.

    It is, however, much more governmentally convenient with politically influential groups, such as the Farm Bureau and Pork Producers, that the committee only deals with six other watershed streams. Unlike Big Creek, they don’t flow alongside the spray fields of a primary tributary to the Buffalo, which attracts million of visitors (and even more of their dollars) to the impoverished Ozarks.

    I’m not alone in questioning the committee process and its decision. Many Arkansas citizens and stakeholders like the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Sierra Club, the Ozark Society and the Canoe Club, also find it unacceptable to eliminate Big Creek from the committee’s scrutiny if it is to do a thorough job.

    Gordon Watkins, who leads the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, said: “We discussed how hard to push for inclusion of Big Creek and, after lengthy discussions with other groups, we concluded it was a futile exercise. But just because it’s not on the priority list doesn’t mean we and others won’t continue to point out impairments of Big Creek. We also will use the committee’s Buffalo Watershed Management Plan to emphasize fragility of the national river and shine light on Big Creek’s impact.

    “While the committee is focusing on six watershed streams, it doesn’t exclude all other tributaries from consideration. It just means Big Creek likely will receive less attention and funding from agencies. That’s no big surprise.”

    Why does all this Beautiful Buffalo Action stuff feel to me like some political misdirection game designed to pacify a lot of angry voters and taxpayers who dearly love our Buffalo?

    The Sierra Club put it this way: “We understand clearly that regulated, point-source activities are, by statute, not within the scope of this plan. And we know six sub-watersheds were chosen as focus for initial management practices and activities. And that middle Big Creek, where the C&H Hog Farm is, was not one of the chosen.

    “The plan states this is because … C&H is a regulated, confined animal feeding operation, a point-source. However, we feel strongly that middle Big Creek … should be included in the initial management plan and all non-point-source activities be monitored and have management practices applied.

    “We’re certain every sub-watershed within the Buffalo River system has both point-source and non-point-source activities, and the plan’s rationale for de-selecting middle Big Creek is therefore not a valid criterion. It is an excuse!”

    Bob Allen with the Canoe Club says: “A private firm, FTN Associates, was hired to do an assessment and develop a ‘Voluntary Watershed-Based Management Plan for the Buffalo River Watershed.’ Their assessment says the place to begin is a set of six subwatersheds … [not including] Big Creek, the tributary that drains the hog factory! The sole purpose of this committee was created because of the factory on Big Creek, but they chose not to include it in their management plan.”

    Allen summarized: “We have an issue with the Buffalo National River and contamination from hog urine and feces. However, it’s way too hot politically, so we’ll go look somewhere else and pretend we are addressing the issue at hand.”

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

  • 13 Oct 2017 10:50 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Failing the state

    This is environmental quality?


    Posted: October 13, 2017 at 2:38 a.m.


    Night is day. Up is down. War is peace. And the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is using our tax dollars to fight against cleaner air for our state.

    For more than a decade, the Arkansas Sierra Club has been pushing our state to follow the law and clean up power-plant emissions that foul our parks and wilderness areas. The Regional Haze Rule, passed in 1999, requires states to reduce visible air pollution, otherwise known as haze, and improve visibility in places like the Upper Buffalo and Caney Creek wilderness areas.

    In 2011, several years after the deadline, the state Department of Environmental Quality submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a haze-reduction plan that was partially approved and partially disapproved, and sent back for more work. Even with the opportunity to continue drafting its plan, the department made an affirmative decision to not do so--that decision, by law, required the EPA to write a federal plan for Arkansas. When EPA failed to meet its deadline for writing its plan for Arkansas, the Sierra Club successfully sued in federal court to force EPA to do its duty.

    The result of this suit? EPA announced a draft plan, held a public hearing, received hundreds of comments from Arkansas citizens on the plan, and issued a final plan in 2016. The plan promised significant reductions in air pollution from the two largest sources of air pollution in Arkansas, Entergy's White Bluff and Independence power plants. These plants are among the largest in the entire country that lack modern technology to reduce smog and other harmful pollutants.

    Under the plan, these old, dirty coal-burning power plants would install modern pollution controls no later than 2021. By dramatically reducing air pollution that harms people's health, the plan would prevent more than 137 premature deaths, 4,000 asthma attacks, and 19,000 lost work and school days every year, saving more than $1.36 billion annually in public health costs and lost productivity.

    Sounds like a good plan, right? Cleaner air, better public health, more visibility in our Arkansas parks, and adding pollution controls to aging power plants that can't compete in today's energy market. Who wouldn't want that?

    Answer: The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, the arm of our state government that, according to its website, is "charged with preventing, controlling, and abating pollution that could harm Arkansas' valuable natural resources."

    The Department of Environmental Quality has joined forces with Entergy in an effort to block the haze-reduction plan in federal court. Let that sink in for a moment. We have the Natural State's environmental protection team spending Arkansas tax dollars to team up with a polluting utility to fight against an effort to clean up the Natural State. Not only are they seeking to overturn the haze-reduction plan in court, the agency is seeking to replace the plan with a much weaker state plan of its own.

    Even in a time when a new outrage is around every corner, this is absolutely maddening. The haze-reduction plan is literally a decade overdue because of delay after delay, resulting in a decade of additional and unnecessary pollution for Arkansans. Now, after the plan is complete, the Department of Environmental Quality wants to write a new, weaker plan that will result in still more delay--and in weaker haze reductions.

    Arkansans deserve much, much better than an Environmental Quality department that is unconcerned with reducing pollution. It is beyond outrageous that Arkansans who want clean air and wilderness areas are being actively opposed by the one department specifically charged with protecting our environment. The department is not an arm of our state's utilities and industrial polluters. The Department of Environmental Quality's entire "reason for being" is stated right there in its name.

    The Arkansas Sierra Club is committed to protecting our state's air, water, forests, and special places. Our "reason for being" is to serve as a check on those who would harm our health and resources. We are used to fighting against those in industry who are irresponsibly endangering our great state--but having to fight our own Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is frankly sickening.

    There is still time to correct this erroneous course of action and serve Arkansans properly. We call on those to whom our Department of Environmental Quality answers--namely, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission--to strongly remind the agency of its core mission and to order it to drop its opposition to reducing smog in our parks.

    In a time of deep divisions, Arkansas' air quality is an issue that should unite us all.


    Glen Hooks is director of the Arkansas Sierra Club.

    Editorial on 10/13/2017

  • 01 Oct 2017 12:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Harrison farm puts free-range pork on menus, local tables

    By Nathan Owens

    Posted: October 1, 2017 at 2:07 a.m.

    NWA Democrat-Gazette

    HARRISON -- The meatballs at Bentonville's Oven & Tap restaurant, the pork chops at The Hive at the 21c Museum Hotel and the thinly sliced deli ham at Onyx Coffee Lab have one thing in common, the pork originates from Sean and Carol Bansley's Berkshire Ridge Farm in the Ozark Mountains.

    "We started raising animals because we wanted the best meat for ourselves and friends," Carol Bansley said. "And it's grown from there."

    Fleeing Iowa's harsh snowy months, the Bansleys moved their pig farm in 2013 to a nearly 300-acre Harrison property.

    At first sales were slim, about three hogs per month were going to nearby retailers, Sean Bansley said.

    However, in the last couple of years the first-generation farmers began making and sustaining connections in the Northwest Arkansas restaurant scene. Sales now average about 25 hogs per month.

    Business improved when Luke Wetzel, owner of Oven & Tap, found the Bansley's Facebook page and saw that they sold Berkshire heritage hogs -- a breed he became familiar with while working at Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif.

    Wetzel said his training in California guided him in how he wanted to run a restaurant: Use local farmers who share similar food production ethics.

    The Bansley farm "really aligned perfectly with what I was after," Wetzel said. "I looked at their banner and Berkshire screamed at me. I think it's a great breed of hog."

    Early records indicate the large black-haired hogs were discovered more than 300 years ago in the shire of Berks in England. Since then, the Berkshire breed has become known in chef circles for its strong meat-to-fat ratio.

    The breed has been popular in Okinawa, Japan, for years, but its status in the United States has trailed off.

    According to the American Berkshire Association, this is largely because of current industry demands for pork that is more lean, but less flavorful.

    In Osceola, Iowa -- a state where pigs outnumber humans roughly 7-to-1 -- Sean Bansley worked in the nursery of Swine Graphics Enterprises for about three years.

    Inside, he herded thousands of commercial pigs in confined quarters.

    "It got to be too much," Bansley said. "I really didn't like seeing animals in that condition. They needed fresh air and sunshine."

    After witnessing the pitfalls of mass production, the Bansleys placed animal welfare at the forefront of their farming goals.

    Their farming practices in Iowa earned them Animal Welfare Approved certification for raising dozens of hogs on pastureland. The animals are given no hormones or antibiotics. They are given feed that has not been genetically modified.

    Now they care for hundreds of pigs and maintain their certification in Arkansas, along with seven other certified farms in the state.

    Wetzel first toured the Bansleys' rustic farm in 2015.

    "We struck a great relationship that day and they've become a family I want to continue to support," Wetzel said.

    Every other Tuesday the Bansleys drive two hours to pick up their butchered hogs from B&R processing in Winslow. Then they travel north to unload orders of shoulders, loins, bellies and hams to their regular stops.

    Oven & Tap buys a little more than 100 pounds at a time for its meatball dishes. Before the Bansleys delivered to restaurants, General Manager Mollie Mullis said she drove to the processor herself for shoulders and bellies.

    "We just thought it was worth it," Mullis said.

    Soon, Matt McClure, executive chef at The Hive, was buying a couple hundred pounds of pork from the Bansleys for bacon, breakfast sausage, pulled pork, ham and pork chops.

    "I think the Bansleys are doing the right thing. I think giving people a choice is the first step of changing this industry," Wetzel said. "You have a choice to go to a farmers market or go to a restaurant to eat food that's been properly grown and properly processed."

    Currently, they distribute to about 20 restaurants and a few health food stores in Arkansas.

    To meet current demand, they plan to expand their 25-acre pig pasture and increase sales to 35 hogs per month. Soon, the Bansleys said they would also like to produce capocollo, prosciutto and pancetta.

    "If we had to get big enough, where we couldn't do it this way, we wouldn't do it," Carol Bansley said. "We want to continue growing the way we feel right about it."

    At Berkshire Ridge Farm sits a yellow two-story house, surrounded by hundreds of pasture-raised pigs.

    "Booooaaaaaarrrr," Sean Bansley called one Friday morning. Crunching through the leaves, Bansley insisted the boar was big enough to ride; he'd posted photos on Facebook. If only he could find him.

    After combing the pasture, a hunk of black flesh revealed itself inside the tin shed up ahead. Inside, a massive hog burrowed into the cool, dark hay, like a dachshund cozies in between couch cushions. Bansley crouched beside his prized breeder: "C'mon, don'tcha wanna get up?"

    No matter what Bansley did, the boar refused to move. It was a little after 10 a.m.

    The sun was out, and it was time to nap.

    SundayMonday Business on 10/01/2017

  • 28 Sep 2017 3:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Save the Buffalo River

    For the future and heritage of Arkansas, save the Buffalo River. Let the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality hear your voice. What is environmental quality? River gone green? No fish? No children laughing in the swimming holes? Who wants that?

    Listen to wisdom, listen to the experts, please. Save the Buffalo River!



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