Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
By Mike Masterson January 16, 2021
Just when you thought the karst-laden Buffalo River watershed had eluded any threat of possible contamination by the removal of a misplaced hog factory, another possible threat to that river (and others) has reared its head, this one prompted by, of all folks, the U.S. Forest Service.
Named the Roberts Gap Project, the little-publicized concept creates the unnecessary risk of negatively affecting three of the most ecologically sensitive watersheds of our state, including the headwaters of the Kings, White and Buffalo rivers.
The plan covers 39,697 acres of national forest lands in Newton and Madison counties. Maps showing the proposed action areas, and various alternatives for maintaining healthy forests, are available on the Internet at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=53597.
The fundamental objectives, according to the project summary, are to "promote native forests that are more resilient to natural disturbances by improving forest health and increasing diversity of species composition and productivity; maintain and improve water quality as this area holds the headwaters of the White River, Kings River, and Buffalo River; reduce hazardous fuels [such as dry underbrush] and increase herbaceous plant species; [and] address access and visitor use concerns for the mountain bike trail system and Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area."
The way I understand the well-intentioned plan (underway now for about two years), the goal is basically to improve these specific woodlands while making them more user-friendly for the public.
Sounds exactly like what I'd expect from the Forest Service. But hundreds of citizens have expressed concerns with the plan and its possible unintentional negative impacts on the three rivers.
Gordon Watkins, who heads the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, said his group, along with other environmentally concerned groups such as Ozark Society, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Newton County Wildlife Association, expressed their concerns during the public comment period which ended in September. In mid-January they were awaiting a formal response.
Below are portions of their comments on the agency's plan.
"Due to the extensive and extractive nature of this proposal, and in such a sensitive and extraordinary location ... we recommend the potential for as-yet-unforeseen cumulative and significant impacts in this special area, and particularly risks to the Buffalo National River, is too great to proceed under the proposed action or any of the proposed alternatives. This project deserves a harder look."
The alliance's concerns, as they always have been, are for the most ecologically sensitive areas of Arkansas. "It includes the headwaters of the nearby Buffalo National River, designated in this plan area as a Wild and Scenic River, as well as the headwaters of the Kings River, an Extraordinary Resource Water. Both are among our state's most pristine streams. In addition, the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area falls within the plan area," the alliance's comments read.
"The plan area is characterized as having steep slopes and erodible soils atop karst topography. While the proposed activities are mostly conducted outside of these special protected areas (with the exception of hardwood thinning and burning adjacent to the Kings River and prescribed burning across the Buffalo River), these areas will nevertheless be impacted, particularly in terms of reduced water quality,"
The alliance is further concerned over the proposed 20.25 miles of dozer lines to be used for prescribed burning along with another 70.2 miles of combined new road construction and existing road maintenance for hauling harvested timber and accessing work areas.
Although the Forest Service proposes to revegetate all disturbed areas when it completes its planned efforts, and many miles of these roads will be permanently closed, they will nevertheless remain a permanent scar on the landscape, Watkins writes. "In addition to disturbing and exposing the soil, which will lead to inevitable erosion, this extensive network of roads and dozer trails will change the natural flow patterns of surface water in those areas during rainfall events."
There also were concerns over the agency creating ditches and culverts that will channel and concentrate flow, further exacerbating erosion and runoff, all of which ultimately flows into the Buffalo and Kings rivers. Those streams are bound to experience increased turbidity and sedimentation.
"Aquatic species will be impacted and the quality of downstream waters will suffer," the alliance added. "The problem is compounded when the totality of proposed activities are considered."
Timber harvesting, along with the associated skid trails and log pads, will further disturb and expose the soil, as will prescribed burning and herbicide use. "The cumulative effects of these activities will most certainly impact water quality of these designated areas which enjoy enhanced protection," Watkins wrote.
There are additional concerns over the almost 12,000 acres proposed for silvicultural practices including regeneration, thinning, commercial harvest, etc. "If such extensive timber harvesting must occur, we recommend that single tree selection be the prescribed method for determining tree removal and that near-old-growth timber be preserved."
"It's proposed that both hardwood and pine seedlings will be replanted in some areas. Recognizing that pine is much more easily established, we urge caution to ensure that conversion of hardwood stands to pine does not occur."
The alliance also recommended that timber harvesting be excluded from specific areas.
Another controversial agency alternative proposes prescribed burning across 10,666 acres. "Burning (as well as other activities) is proposed up to the boundary with the Wilderness Area and up to, and in some cases across, the stream channels of the Kings and Buffalo Rivers, including inside the designated Wild and Scenic River corridor," Watkins wrote.
He added: "It's stated multiple burns will likely be required. Burning removes protective leaf litter and exposes the forest floor to increased risk of erosion and runoff, which will ultimately impact water quality of streams in the area through sedimentation and increased turbidity.
The alliance recommended burning be prohibited inside the designated Wild and Scenic River corridor and that buffer zones be established adjacent to the Kings River and Wilderness Areas.
Using herbicides on 3,059 acres also raised alliance concerns." Multiple applications will likely be required. Five chemicals are proposed. Recent legal proceedings have found glyphosate to be carcinogenic, and settlements for the case are being negotiated with the Monsanto/Bayer company.
"Triclopyr is likewise suspect. The Ozarks in general, and Roberts Gap, in particular, is characterized as having karst geology, making both surface and groundwater subject to contamination from toxins applied on the surface. Many residents in this area get their drinking water from wells and springs, which tap into this karst aquifer.
"The Buffalo National River is popular as a primary contact waterway for much of the year. Park visitors as well as those who enjoy the upper Buffalo River swim, paddle, fish and in some cases drink from these waters. The introduction of toxins such as herbicides poses a risk to human health and should not be utilized. Manual practices can and should be substituted."
Watkins told me he's visited with Forest Service officials who were receptive to considering the public's suggestions and concerns, although he's waited nearly four months to hear whether the agency's current proposals will be modified, or which of the three approaches it will adopt.
"It's been all but impossible to speak with a person at the Forest Service by phone," Watkins said. "While that is frustrating, we continue to be hopeful, when they make a final determination, they will have acted on our concerns."
He told me that after the decision is announced, there will be an objection period during which those who commented may file legal objections. While the general public may submit informal comments to the Forest Service at any time, only those who commented during formal comment period have official standing to object.
While it's expected that the Forest Service always will act responsibly in managing the best interests of preserving and protecting forests across public lands, I also am not convinced such wide-ranging, ambitious actions are necessary in this fragile region of our state.
Here's a layman's thoughts: What's wrong with simply leaving these sensitive acres alone and allowing Mother Nature to continue taking her course? Isn't that how our most of our special designated wilderness areas are handled?
Buffalo River panel hears ideas for using $167,400Trees, restrooms, feral hogs among pitches
by Ashton Eley
The Buffalo River Conservation Committee listened to several proposals from organizations that applied for further assistance from the committee's remaining project funds during its meeting Thursday afternoon.
Around $167,400 remain of the $1 million allotted to support grants and projects within the Buffalo River Watershed, said Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward, who led the meeting.
The $1 million was transferred Nov. 15, 2019, from the governor's discretionary fund to an Arkansas Department of Agriculture account for projects like voluntary best management practices for farmers and landowners; improvements to wastewater and septic systems for cities and counties within the watershed; and reduction of sediment runoff from unpaved roads within the watershed, according to the committee's 2020 report.
The committee had asked for applications from anyone seeking such funding in early November. It received 10 applications by its Dec. 15 deadline.
All applicants were sent an email about the meeting and opportunity to present, said Amy Lyman, director of marketing and communications at the Arkansas Department of Agriculture. Five applicants attended and presented at Thursday's meeting.
Darryl Treat, executive director of the Searcy County Chamber of Commerce, proposed using some of the funds to buy trees to plant.
"I felt I was encouraged to make a submission," he said. "If the committee doesn't see fit for our proposal, that's totally OK ... I think we can press ahead with our own resources and go ahead and plant some trees regardless."
The committee discussed the possibilities of nursery and large tree purchases, as well as possibly distributing trees to homeowners in the county. With $2,500, matched by the Arkansas Forestry Commission, about 20 trees could be put in at a recently completed park lake.
"That would be a pretty good start," commission forester Mike Mowery said in the meeting. "We would be happy to provide some guidance, make a plan and give some suggestions on species and planning sites."
The county also started tree-planting efforts at the Berry Shed property. Treat said he would like to continue planting trees that enhance the natural beauty of the area.
One of the best ways to help water quality is to plant trees, committee member Richard McMullen said.
With the rest of the four proposals, some committee members spoke to presenters about better possible funding sources for their projects. Ben Milburn, committee member and owner of Buffalo River Outfitters, expressed concerns about going outside the intention of the committee. He suggested that funding efforts should go to directly helping local farmers through education efforts or other means.
Biologist Billy Justus from the U.S. Geological Survey asked the committee for $132,000 to extend his team's study of filamentous algae to September 2022 to have five years of data.
Algae blooms could be contributing to the water quality declining over an extended time. A long-term study is also needed because public use of the river has increased dramatically and land use in the watershed has been changing.
The project has cost about $100,000 a year and has run out of its funding from other sources, Justus said. He is asking for the minimum needed to conduct a necessary, long-term study, he said.
"We don't have the option of working forward without any funding. Data collection will stop," he said. "We are constantly looking for opportunities, but we don't have anything that would allow us to continue for sure."
Jasper Mayor Jan Larson proposed a $120,000 grant that would help buy the historic and currently vacant Buffalo Theater to turn it into an information center and public restrooms.
The town of about 500 residents relies heavily on tourism. Currently, the city has no public restrooms, creating a waste management issue.
"Tourism is the lifeblood for our economy and they love our area. ... Without positive management, the river as we know it could quickly be destroyed," Larson said. "I'm hoping we can add something to stopping this at the source rather than having to deal with it once it's in the river."
If given the funds, Larson said, the public restrooms could be ready by spring. There may also be room for vendors or other services that will support tourism, she said.
Robert Byrd with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services made a $100,000 request to aid in managing feral hogs -- an invasive species in Arkansas. These hogs cause around $1.5 billion in damage nationally and $19 million damage in Arkansas, Bryd said.
Members agreed that feral hog management is an important issue but again voiced concerns about if it was the right organization to help fund those efforts.
Amit Sinha, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff assistant professor, asked for funds to work on better treatments for algae booms. He said algaecide can harm beneficial types of algae as well as detrimental types.
He said he has had some success on a small scale with lowering the phosphorous ratio to better address the issue. However, it seemed too soon in the experimental process for many committee members, they said.
"I hope you continue this work," said Stacy Hurst, secretary of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
LITTLE ROCK — The Buffalo River Conservation Committee (BRCC) is accepting applications through December 15, 2020 for assistance with funding projects that will benefit water quality and resource management in the Buffalo River Watershed.
Governor Hutchinson established the BRCC through Executive Order 19-14 on September 23, 2019. The BRCC is tasked with leading and assisting projects that benefit water quality and resource management in the Buffalo River Watershed with an emphasis being placed on items that engage local stakeholders and landowners that have a positive impact on water quality and are beneficial for landowners within the Watershed.
Approximately $167,400 is available for disbursement. Funding for the BRCC efforts was made available through Governor Hutchinson and the Arkansas Legislature. Applications can be found at https://www.cognitoforms.com/ArkansasAgriculture1/brccgrant.
The BRCC membership consists of the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Secretary of the Department of Energy and Environment, Secretary of the Department of Health, and Secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism.
The members of the BRCC are required to work in cooperation with one another to identify opportunities to leverage their Department’s unique expertise, relationships, focus areas, and funding mechanisms in support of the vitality of the watershed.
The BRCC includes a subcommittee consisting of key stakeholders representing local landowners, conservation organizations, environmental and technical experts, representatives of the tourism industry, local county and municipal officials and federal partners. The subcommittee assists with identifying opportunities for training, relationship building, and specific projects, in service to preserving and enhancing water quality within the Buffalo River Watershed.
Washington Post letter to the editor by BRWA co-founder Jack Stewart.
FRAN ALEXANDER: Call of the wilderness
Management must include protectinos for special forest area
by Fran Alexander | September 8, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.
Seeing the forest for the trees
Arkansas has a crown jewel, a unique place of quality that has no parallel. Oh sure, there are rivers elsewhere as there are forests and caves and cliffs and mountains, which are scattered hither and yon across the country. But “scattered” is the key word here. Once, much of our nation was covered in forests, rivers ran clean, prairie grasses fed herds of buffalo, wildlife had habitat, the air was fresh and you couldn’t hear a motor no matter how hard you tried.
Once, wilderness was more than a bit of mental imagination, instead filled with the actual reality of danger, adventure and discovery. Our country still has its natural wonder, but most of the grand landscapes are no longer contiguous. They are sliced and diced into parks, national forests, scenic rivers, etc., separated by cities and towns, farms and ranches, highways and byways.
Arkansas got lucky in the natural beauty lottery because within our borders is the first national river. By receiving that honor in 1972, the Buffalo National River was saved from a federal dam or dams to be built along its 135 mile length. Because Dr. Neil Compton and members of the Ozark Society and others worked for years for its protection, today it is one of very few undammed and free-flowing rivers in the lower 48 states.
Fast-forwarding across decades of change and heavy use of the river and its watershed brings us to the next huge battle to save the Buffalo, the existence of a hog CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) on a tributary of the river. Again Arkansas citizens had to come to the rescue, this time to save it from pollution, and after seven years and incalculable volunteer time, energy and money, the river is a lot safer, although still not as secure as it should be. Who’s minding its watershed?
The U.S. Forest Service develops forest management plans, and its Robert’s Gap project comprises almost 40,000 acres in the Ozark National Forest. The headwaters of the Buffalo, White and Kings Rivers start in this project area so water quality protection here is crucial. Part of this area includes the public land that touches the Buffalo River and almost surrounds the federally designated Upper Buffalo Wilderness, which accounts for only 6% of this forest’s total acreage.
Bordering the Upper Buffalo Wilderness are 3,000 acres with the potential of having that designation as well, if the land can sustain its wild characteristics. To that goal, both the Ozark Society and the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance are requesting that the Forest Service not build new roads nor do any of their planned timbering on these tracts so as not to destroy their chance for inclusion someday. In addition, the rugged and steep Edgemon Creek area and the Eagle Gap special interest area should be removed from timbering plans to protect their unique beauty and botanical richness.
Prescribed burning, herbicide use, timber thinning, road and trail changes and old growth “regeneration” (cutting) are just a few of the management issues. All of these can be harmful near wilderness, detrimental to water and air quality and can trigger soil erosion. Although some of these consequences heal in time, some do not. Herein lies the age-old tug-of-war between managing forests as a crop for timber production vs. practicing forestry encompassing the entire ecosystem.
Many who’ve long fought to protect the public’s forests oppose herbicide applications to target unwanted vegetation on thousands of acres. Chemicals like glyphosate (Roundup) are being banned in some countries because they might have carcinogenic effects. We need to apply this precautionary principle to any and all chemical use in our environment, not be lured into its clutches, succumbing to its charms of cheapness and convenience. Toxins pollute water, affect wells and can come in contact with farm animals, wildlife, and humans.
The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is recommending that this entire timber management project in this ecologically sensitive forest should be subject to an environmental impact statement before work is done.
The Forest Service public comment deadline on the Robert’s Gap project is today, Sept. 8, so if you’d like to comment on how your national forest is managed, do it now. Tomorrow is too late.
You may email me for copies of the comments from two organizations. This link has the Forest Service information about plans and alternatives: https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/108859_FSPLT3_5331371.pdf
And this email address is where you may submit comments no later than today (put “Robert’s Gap” in the subject line): firstname.lastname@example.org
Fran Alexander is a Fayetteville resident with a longstanding interest in the environment and an opinion on almost anything else. Email her at fran@deane-alexander. com .
Revisions to rule on pollution in limbo
At issue is U.S.’permit program
by Joseph Flaherty
The Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment has no proposed timeline for revising a regulation needed for the state to maintain control of a Clean Water Act pollution permitting program.
When Arkansas lawmakers in June rejected a proposal from the Energy and Environment Department to permanently ban medium and large hog farms from the Buffalo River watershed, they also inadvertently rejected proposed revisions to a state regulation related to the federal water permitting program known as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.
The program regulates point sources of pollution into waters of the U.S. An entity wishing to discharge pollutants must obtain a permit under the program, either from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or a state with EPA-delegated authority to issue permits, such as Arkansas.
Now, the state Division of Environmental Quality will likely have to pursue the rule-making process again and bring the revised regulation back before the Legislature in order to stay in compliance with the federal permitting program, but it's unclear when that time-consuming process will take place, according to a Department of Energy and Environment spokesman.
"The Department is still evaluating the best path forward for adoption of the NPDES program revisions and permanency of the moratorium," Energy and Environment Department spokesman Jacob Harper wrote in an email to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Department Secretary Becky Keogh, who also serves as director of the Arkansas Division of Environmental Quality, previously told the Democrat-Gazette in July that officials are reviewing "the best path forward" for the proposed permanent moratorium, as well as for their obligations under the law.
The permanent moratorium on medium and large hog farms in the watershed had the support of Gov. Asa Hutchinson and conservation groups, but it faced opposition from the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
The state regulation governing the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program in Arkansas is known as Regulation 6 under the current legal framework. If the Energy and Environment Department's proposed revisions are approved sometime in the future, then the name will change from Regulation 6 to Rule 6.
The revisions to the state regulation, which the Legislature rejected earlier this summer, had incorporated changes in line with updated federal regulations.
With regard to potential consequences for failing to update the water permitting regulation in the state, Harper wrote, "While there is a range of potential consequences for failing to comply with NPDES requirements, the most severe would be the revocation of the delegated program to the State."
"At this time, the EPA has not raised the issue," he added.
It's unknown when the delegated authority to administer the permits would revert from Arkansas back to the federal government if changes are not made.
When asked about a deadline to make revisions, Harper wrote, "There is no known deadline."
"Both the Department of Energy and Environment and DEQ maintain a good working relationship with our federal partners," he continued. "We are committed to doing what is necessary to maintain and properly administer all [of] our state-delegated programs."
In an emailed statement Friday, an EPA spokesman from the agency's Region 6 in Dallas, which oversees Arkansas and other nearby states, said the Arkansas Division of Environmental Quality "is responsible for ensuring compliance with State and Federal requirements.”
"EPA defers to ADEQ concerning inquiries regarding the state's NPDES program and compliance," the EPA's Joseph Hubbard wrote. "EPA believes states are best suited to run their NPDES programs."
He did not respond to questions about whether the EPA has communicated with the Energy and Environment Department or other state authorities on the issue, and he did not mention the point in time when the EPA might consider revoking Arkansas' delegated authority to issue permits.
It's "highly unlikely" that the EPA would rush to take over the permitting authority in Arkansas, according to Walter Wright, a Little Rock environmental lawyer with the firm Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates and Woodyard.
Under this administration, "the feds, I assume, would give the state of Arkansas every break possible because the last thing they want to do is assume delegation of ... a state NPDES permitting program," Wright said in an interview Thursday. "They don't have the staffing or funding to take over that function."
Even if the EPA had those resources, he said, the federal government would be making "fairly sensitive calls" about certain discretionary matters related to pollutant discharges.
From an industry-efficiency standpoint, holders of permits support the state delegation of the program, not only because of local control but also because they can discuss issues with regulators who know the area, Wright said.
As of last year, all the states surrounding Arkansas had fully authorized programs, according to an EPA map listing the system status of the states.
Wright said he did not know of an exact timeline for when Arkansas would have to make the regulatory revisions to stay in compliance with the EPA, or risk losing the delegated permitting authority.
He suggested the state would be highly motivated to make the changes and said legislators who took issue with the Buffalo River permanent hog farm moratorium would "have absolutely no problem" with the updated rule.
"The state's always got the argument, 'Hey, do you want to deal with us or do you want to deal with the feds?'" Wright said.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (Edited News Release/KY3) -
Noted conservationist and Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris announced the purchase of the former Dogpatch USA theme park property in Newton County, Ark.
Morris says in a statement to KY3, plans for the property remain in the early stages of exploration. He says any possible future development will be an extension of Morris’ signature experiences help families connect to nature and each other.
“We are very excited to have the opportunity to restore, preserve and share this crown jewel of Arkansas and the Ozarks so everyone can further enjoy the wonderful region we call home,” said Morris. “We’re going to take our time to restore the site, dream big and imagine the possibilities to help more families get back to nature through this historic and cherished place.”
The site is located near the legendary Buffalo National River, which flows through 135 miles of breathtaking natural scenery. One of the few remaining un-damned rivers in the lower 48 states, the Buffalo is the first river to receive special designation from the National Park Service. Dogpatch USA opened in 1967 as a theme park featuring a trout farm, horseback rides, and various amusement rides and attractions. During the height of its popularity in the late 60s, the destination attracted 300,000 annual visitors, but attendance gradually declined before closing in 1993. While there have been numerous owners, the site has been vacant for the past several years with many of the remaining structures in a dilapidated state.
The property’s next chapter will be an ode to the heritage of the Ozarks and the abundant wildlife and natural beauty found here. One top priority is restoration of the large natural spring and bringing back to life the renowned trout hatchery and many future fishing opportunities.
Hog farm strategies weighed
Agency studying ‘best path’ on ban
by Joseph Flaherty | July 15, 2020 at 3:26 a.m.
State environmental regulators are still weighing how to proceed with a proposed permanent ban on medium and large hog farms in the Buffalo River watershed, one month after the proposal was handed a resounding defeat in the Arkansas Legislature.
In an interview on Tuesday, Beck Keogh, secretary of the Energy and Environment Department, said that at this point, the department is evaluating "how that proposal can continue."
According to Keogh, officials are exploring options to determine what is required of the agency, as well as "the best path forward" regarding the permanent moratorium.
Last month, lawmakers on the Administration Rules Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council expressed reservations about the potential chilling effects a permanent ban on industrial-scale hog farming in the prized northern Arkansas watershed might have on agriculture throughout the state, and they voted to effectively kill the proposal.
The full Legislative Council, which serves as the General Assembly's oversight body when it is out of session, affirmed the decision two days later on June 19.
The effort by state regulators to permanently ban hog farms in the Buffalo River watershed had the support of conservationists as well as Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican. But the Arkansas Farm Bureau had consistently opposed the measure.
C&H Hog Farms , a large confined animal-feeding operation on a tributary of the Buffalo River, closed in January as a result of a deal with the state. The closure followed years of controversy, as environmentalists raised concerns that hog waste stored on the property would foul water quality.
The proposed ban would have forever barred certain categories of medium and large hog farms from the watershed: those with 750 or more swine weighing 55 pounds or more, or with 3,000 or more swine weighing less than 55 pounds.
Keogh said the position held by regulators is that a temporary moratorium on hog farms remains in place and will stay in place until rules are modified to eliminate it.
A five-year ban on medium and large hog farms near the Buffalo River was previously approved by the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission in 2015. The temporary ban required environmental regulators to either make the ban permanent or abandon it after five years.
Keogh said her understanding is that as the director of the Division of Environmental Quality, she is required to take action on the hog farm measure five years after the effective date of the temporary ban, which would mean addressing the issue by September.
"That is the date we're looking at closely to make sure that we're in compliance with that rule-making," Keogh said.
Speaking to legislators last month as they considered the permanent ban, Keogh implied that if lawmakers rejected the measure, her agency would bring the proposal back using the rule-making process, if that was required.
On Tuesday, Keogh said there is still an open question as to what is required under the current regulations.
At the moment, she said, officials are still evaluating whether the agency must bring back the proposed permanent moratorium again in the fall, or if the Environmental Quality Department's efforts have already satisfied the requirement included in the 2015 temporary ban.
Asked why the agency does not know the next step at this time considering the proposed ban failed in the Legislature weeks ago, Keogh said she has asked her officials to evaluate it. She also emphasized that officials want to ensure the rule-making will be consistent with the law while respecting the General Assembly's role.
"We hope to have an answer very soon," she said, adding that she could not give a specific date when officials will know more.
"I think we can be assured that in this period of time, we still have a moratorium in place," Keogh said.
Keogh said officials involved with studying the issue include Shane Khoury, the Energy and Environment Department's chief counsel, as well as Pollution Control and Ecology Commission Administrative Law Judge Charles Moulton.
Complicating the Legislature's rejection of the permanent hog farm ban is the fact that by rejecting revisions to Rules Five and Six, which together made up the proposed permanent ban, the Legislature also rejected revisions to Rule Six related to a federal pollutant discharge permitting program.
Those rule changes included revisions needed to bring Arkansas in compliance with updated federal regulations governing pollutant discharge under the Clean Water Act, rules known as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.
At some point, Arkansas will have to approve these revisions to put the state in conformity with requirements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that allow the delegation of regulatory enforcement to the state, Keogh said.
For regulated entities that discharge pollution into water, permitting authority being held by the federal government versus the state is an important distinction, Keogh said.
She explained, "It's always been their preference, as well as the Legislature's preference, that Arkansas retain that delegation and implement the program at the local level," rather than have the EPA implement the program in lieu of state regulators, Keogh said.
Keogh said officials with the state agency's Office of Water Quality are monitoring the situation closely and are in communication with the EPA.
Despite the support of conservationists and the governor, lawmakers' recent rejection of the permanent hog farm ban appears to have sent the measure into a kind of limbo, at least until the Energy and Environment Department finalizes its strategy.
In an emailed statement provided by a spokeswoman on Tuesday, Khoury told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "While the moratorium remains in place, we continue to evaluate what's required of additional rule-making regarding the moratorium and adoption of federal requirements in Rule 6."
After legislators on the Administrative Rules Subcommittee rejected the proposal, Hutchinson in a statement said the measure "is designed to protect for generations to come one of our most important national resources."
"The rule presented by the Pollution, Control & Ecology Commission was adopted after public comment and multiple hearings and reviews," Hutchinson said at the time. "It is my hope that the General Assembly will reconsider its initial decision and approve the rule."
OPINION: Guest writer
Stand for the river Factory farms and the Buffalo
by ROBERT MOORE SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Arkansas finds itself faced with a neat conundrum: Whether to take up arms (figuratively) against a ruthless and ruinous tyranny, or to do nothing and allow one of our most precious treasures to remain vulnerable to the grasping, voracious, insatiable hunger of the giant corporation.
Our Legislature has voted to not make permanent the protection of the Buffalo National River watershed from the incursion of factory hog farms and their like, possibly leading to irreversible pollution and degradation of a local and national treasure.
One needs to place this consideration within its larger context, which is the unchecked power of corporations to damage and destroy the natural world in the name of profit and with the specious argument that what they do is "for the good of the people."
I begin by quoting Mr. Wendell Berry, acclaimed poet and essayist whose writings about the natural world have placed before us a moral code which arises from a balanced, bonded, deeply respectful and nuanced relationship with the earth. In "The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry," he speaks of the factory hog farm and its relationship with the natural world: "Like a strip mine, a hog factory exists in utter indifference to the landscape. Its purpose, as an animal factory, is to exclude from consideration both the nature of the place where it is and the nature of hogs. That it is a factory means that it could be in any place, and that the hog is a 'unit of production.' ... [T]he explicit purpose of the hog factory is to violate nature. ... But when you exclude compassion from agriculture, what have you done? Have you not removed something ultimately of the greatest practical worth?"
The factory hog farm which placed the Buffalo River in grave danger--and which is still endangered because of the Legislature's refusal to make permanent a ban on such agriculture within the Buffalo River drainage basin--was permitted by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality without geological, biological, or environmental study, without public debate, and without any consideration of its possible effects upon the Buffalo River; even the most cursory examination of the landscape in which this hog farm was placed would have revealed that it was to be built upon a geological karst formation, which is porous limestone perforated with holes, caves, and fissures which allow a free runoff and underground channeling of field waste into the surface and underground water table. Such runoff can and does travel for miles downstream, and eventually into the Buffalo River.
After little more than a year, it was already revealed that the enormous amount of hog feces sprayed across local fields, housed in large catchment basins, and aerated into the atmosphere had already impacted the river. Algae blooms of the kind which this waste produces were seen in the streams that feed the Buffalo River and in the river itself.
But Mr. Berry raises a much larger question here as well. It is a moral question about the presence of compassion in both the agriculture industry and in the regulatory bodies which provide regulations checking the influence and effect of large factory farms upon the natural environment.
Ultimately it is about the voters of Arkansas and the presence of compassion in them when it comes to protecting the Earth, and in our case, one of our most sacred and precious treasures: the Buffalo River.
Are we so blinded and hardened by our superficial political and ideological prejudices that we will allow our Legislature to continue to endanger and refuse to protect the long-term beauty and sanctity of its natural treasures? It appears that our political representatives have sold their souls to the highest bidder, whether the payment is in money or power or position. There is no lie bald-faced enough to make us believe this decision was made "for the good of the people."
Finally, I quote again Mr. Berry: "The hog factory attempts to be a totally rational, which is to say a totally economic, enterprise. It strips away from animal life and human work every purpose, every benefit too, that is not economic ... to be replaced by a totalitarian economy with its neat, logical concepts of world-as-factory and life-as-commodity."
A compassionate heart, a compassionate electorate, a body of voters whose love of nature and of the Buffalo River is great enough will not, must not, cannot allow others to rationalize about the "good-for-the-people" uses of such a farm, but will repudiate any such use of public land for the sole purpose of corporate profit.
My heart is in the river, and I am making a stand for her.
Dr. Robert Moore is emeritus professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization
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