Want not waste
Questions still surround hog farm
By Ginny Masullo and Lin Wellford,
Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Recently, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality opened yet another public-comment period concerning the latest modification request for the Cargill-contracted confined animal feeding operation, C&H Hog Farms in Mount Judea. This time they are proposing to empty the two open lagoons containing the waste of 6,500 swine to install synthetic liners, a cover and a methane flare.
Two years ago when this facility was built, we were told it was a state-of-the-art operation. Jerry Masters, vice president of Arkansas Pork Producers, wrote a guest column assuring the public that it was extremely unlikely that any hog waste would ever get loose from the "over-engineered" clay-lined lagoons.
Research shows that not only is lagoon leakage common, it is so probable that state regulations allow the lagoons to leak up to 5,000 gallons per acre of lagoon per day. At an Environmental Quality hearing held in Harrison, Farm Bureau Environmental Specialist Evan Teague told the crowd that clay liners are actually designed to leak--until they become plugged up with waste. So, how much waste may have leaked into the ground under C&H? No one can say, since there was no requirement to install a leak-detection system. Where the waste might go is also an open question. No dye-testing was allowed by C&H on the property. What we do know is that the area sits on karst, a highly permeable fractured limestone substrate. It's the reason you see so many gushing springs in the Ozarks after it rains.
The public was also told repeatedly that Cargill/C&H had jumped through all the regulatory hoops, even though many questioned from the outset how the more time-consuming aspects of the process, like the environmental assessment, could have been completed so quickly.
Upon careful review, a judge ruled that, in fact, very little was done to effectively evaluate the potential environmental impacts of this swine operation on a sensitive watershed. No mention was even made of the presence of the Buffalo National River, or that Big Creek, which abuts the spray fields, is a major tributary. The judge termed the assessment "cursory and flawed," and directed that a proper assessment be conducted.
But in the meantime, millions of gallons of hog waste have been sprayed onto pastures surrounding the facility. We can't turn back the clock to the conditions that existed prior to when this CAFO began operations. But we do have the results of a very comprehensive study of the Buffalo River conducted by biologists for the National Park Service over a 10-year period from 1985-1995. At that time, the study concluded that while the water quality of the Buffalo was still excellent, agricultural runoff introduced through tributaries presented a growing threat that needed to be addressed.
With time, so much more has come to light, casting doubt on the motives and veracity of those involved in getting the CAFO swiftly up and running, that it seems only natural to continue asking questions:
- Are synthetic liners less likely to leak? If so, why weren't they installed at the outset? It turns out that synthetic liners have been in use for quite some time. While they can rupture, at least they aren't designed to leak.
- How well will this type of liner perform when retrofitted over clay permeated with an unknown amount of swine waste? There seems to be little information available. Research did uncover the possibility of methane and other gasses building up below the liners and causing them to malfunction.
- What about the apparent inconsistencies in the Nutrient Management Plan that is public record? Members of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and Earthjustice have repeatedly asked the state for an explanation since over-application increases runoff. Mistakes in the paperwork as to which fields are approved for receiving waste also have not been addressed despite numerous requests.
- Agricultural runoff is listed by the EPA as the leading cause of impairment of rivers in the U.S. Thirty-six percent of all monitored waterways were designated as impaired in the 1990s. That number is now above 55 percent and rising. Isn't it reasonable to assume that dumping 3.5 million gallons, the amount of hog sewage C&H applied to pastures in the first full year of operation, is bound to have a negative effect on a waterway that was already showing impact from runoff? Is our first national river destined to join the growing list of impaired waterways?
Corporate agri-business likes to claim that it is only trying to feed a hungry world, but the reality is that it is reaping major profits by using contract growers who don't own any part of the animal except its waste. Ultimately human survival requires working together to sustain the environment which supports all living things.
Trading our shared resources for cheap pork is no bargain! The real price tag already promises to be more than any of us can afford.
Ginny Masullo of Fayetteville and Lin Wellford of Green Forest are two founding members of the Ozarks Water Stewards, a group devoted to bringing awareness of the value of the Ozark Plateau's shared water resources. The public can email comments to Water-Draft-Permit-Comment@adeq.state.ar.us.
Editorial on 07/27/2015