What the Science Tells us - A Creeping Catastrophe
The current controversy over the operation of a factory farm, or as it is called in the industry, a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), in the watershed of the Buffalo National River has, so far, generated far more concerns and questions than answers. The river is a local, state and national treasure that must be protected from damaging pollution.
What are our concerns?
1. The factory farm trucks in thousands of tons of concentrated, grain based, swine feed.
2. The 6500 hogs, who never go outside, eat the feed and produce millions of gallons of waste that is high in nitrates and phosphorous and E coli.
3. The waste stays in the watershed and eventually reaches ground water and the river.
4. The nitrates and phosphorous in the river stimulate abnormally large and wide spread algae blooms that clog the river
5. The algae dies, rots and in the process uses up much of the oxygen in the river water.
6. The low oxygen levels cause die offs of fish and other aquatic animals and could permanently damage the river.
7. The E coli bacteria present a potential health hazard to anyone using the river.
What does the data tell us about factory hog farming in the Buffalo National River watershed? Just as importantly what does the data not tell us?
Multiple experts from right here in Arkansas have combed through the available data and have found evidence of a creeping ecological catastrophe underway in the Ozarks.
C&H Farms houses 6500 hogs that are owned by a foreign corporation. Over 80,000 animals pass through the facility every year. They produce over two million gallons of waste every year. These hogs are raised on trucked in feed and nutrients and their waste, over ten million gallons to date, is stored and then spread, untreated and unfiltered, in the Buffalo River watershed. This is the only such facility in the region.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality requires geologic and groundwater research prior to construction of a factory farm like C & H.
This research has not been completed and what information we do have confirms the presence of limestone, karst formations and provides cause for serious concern about farm animal waste contamination of the Buffalo River.
Dr. Van Brahana, a University of Arkansas hydro-geologist, has documented the wide spread presence of karst very near, even directly under, the facility where the 6500 hogs live and the fields where their waste is spread. Karst formations, which are widespread throughout the Ozarks, are known to allow ground water contamination and surface runoff pollutants to move large distances in short times. One dye study done by Dr. Van Brahana proved that water from a shallow well near the factory farm showed up twelve miles away, in a spring on the other side of the Buffalo River.
Even with the incomplete data we have to this point it is obviously not safe to store or spread millions of gallons of raw, liquid hog manure in the Buffalo River watershed.
Link to CAFO On Karst. Dr. Van Brahana
Here in the Ozark Mountains with our complex web of rivers, caves, underground streams and natural springs, private property rights include taking responsibility for the water rights of everyone within the Buffalo River community.
Dr. David Peterson, a UCA math professor, has analyzed the water quality data collected by BCRET, the research team charged by the state of Arkansas with monitoring the effects of the hog factory on nearby Big Creek. The BCRET data shows significant rises of both nitrates and phosphorous in surface water and ground water.
In two recent instances the nitrate level in the ephemeral stream that drains the lagoon area at C&H farms and the surrounding trench, were 55 times higher than the ambient level of Big Creek. Despite dilution by upstream waters, average pollutant levels in Big Creek, downstream from the farm, are more than twice as high as upstream of the farm. Groundwater contamination with nitrates and phosphorous has risen 50% in 3 years. There is no other source in this sparsely populated area of Newton County that can match the manure output of 1,000,000 lbs. of hogs. This is compelling evidence that these changes are caused by runoff from C&H farms into Big Creek and ground water infiltration. Because phosphorous binds to soil and leaches out slowly over the course of years or decades, a small increase in the first three years of monitoring is cause for concern about the next decade, even if waste spreading in the watershed stops now.
link to Nutrient Concentrations in Big Creek (Middle) Dr. David Peterson
Over the last five years, the Arkansas Canoe Club and numerous other visitors and residents of the Buffalo River have reported a consistent and significant rise in the amount and distribution of algae blooming in the Buffalo River.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the National Park Service have teamed up to create an algae response plan.
link to Algae Data ADEQ Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality
Low oxygen levels have been widely documented within the Buffalo River watershed by the National Park Service and the United States Geologic Survey. If current trends continue, these low oxygen levels will cause die offs of fish and aquatic invertebrates, failure of fish spawning, and damage to the entire river ecosystem.
Oxygen levels in Big Creek, where the hog factory is located, are now at levels that require the stream to be designated as "impaired" by ADEQ.
link to Summary Dissolved Oxygen Jessie Green, White River Waterkeeper
Prolonged low water oxygen levels could destroy the Buffalo River as the economic powerhouse and centerpiece of Arkansas tourism.
In addition to tracking water oxygen levels, the USGS, the National Park Service and the ADEQ have all been monitoring E. coli levels in the Buffalo River for several years. Unacceptably high levels of this potentially harmful bacteria have been detected in several locations on the river. Agricultural runoff is one likely cause and much more information is needed about this issue before we continued spreading millions of gallons of animal manure in the watershed area.
Analysis of E. coli data by David Peterson, April, 2019
"I don't worry much about what my neighbors are up to, as long as their hogs ain't crappin in my spring."
Virgil Willis b-1900 d-1998
Lifelong resident of the upper Little Buffalo River valley. A good man, with forty acres and a mule.