FRAN ALEXANDER: The problem with poop
Manure on ground can mean it’s in the water
Nope, the fat lady hasn't sung yet. This opera just goes on and on as the story of the second saving of Arkansas' Buffalo River keeps unfolding. But its future still hangs on a low note of which few people are aware. Supporters of a clean river must don their horned helmets yet again to go forth into what, hopefully, is the final battle to save the country's first national river from hog manure.
I know the hog farm is closing. And yes, I know that Gov. Asa Hutchinson did what Gov. Mike Beebe should have done. He finally spearheaded the closure of an operation that should never have been permitted. The state and the Nature Conservancy anted up more than $6 million to compensate the farm owners for their investment. The governor has set up the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee to develop a non-regulatory watershed-based management plan. And he also has established the Buffalo River Conservation Committee "to prioritize and fund projects that would be supported by farmers and the local communities." But, most importantly, the governor supports a permanent moratorium on medium and large (swine) confined animal feeding operations, known in government circles as CAFOs, in the river's watershed.
So, why can't that mythical, plump soprano sing loudly in joy and jubilation declaring an end to this manure madness? Well, because that last item, the permanent moratorium, has to pass by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, then the state's Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, and then be approved, or not, by the Arkansas Legislative Council to become a reality. So, this saga ain't over yet.
The five-year moratorium on swine feeding operations in this watershed runs out next year, which is why there is a push for a permanent solution. Arkansas citizens have already sent in statements this year regarding this moratorium, with four hundred commenters supporting permanent protection and two opposed: the Farm Bureau and the Arkansas Pork Producers Association.
Politics and power being what they are, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission has agreed to reopen the moratorium question for yet more comments until Jan. 22. Ostensibly this 90-day period is for review of a report on the farm's nutrient management and the impact on Big Creek, the tributary to the Buffalo that runs near the hog farm. I doubt anything in this report changes what pig poop is made of, however, nor solves the engineering conundrum that water runs downhill and takes stuff along with it.
Water not only runs downhill, it also seeps into the ground. When spread over hillside fields with thin soil cover, hog manure doesn't just sit there. Too much of this fertilizer oversaturates the soil, and then travels into creeks, rivers and underground springs. Phosphorus feeds algae growth, which has led sections of Big Creek and the Buffalo River to be declared "impaired." This status can mean fishing, swimming and canoeing are affected negatively or are prohibited if severe enough to warrant health risks. Algae blooms can also wreak havoc on ecosystems in the water and on land.
It is logical that if only one large feeding operation has been degrading the water this much that more swine farms would destroy this river, considered by many to be the state's greatest tourist attraction. It is just foolish and dangerous to ever allow industrial farming operations in this geologically unsuitable area of the state.
What this new comment period (now active until 4:30 p.m. Jan. 22) means is that we must comment again, or for the first time if you're new to this issue, to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, written comments go to: Jacob Harper, Department of Energy and Environment, 5301 Northshore Drive, North Little Rock, AR 72118.
As an early Christmas gift to yourself, to the state and to the nation, please send your comments in now so you don't forget before the deadline. And, also thank the governor for supporting a permanent moratorium on confined animal feeding operations in this watershed. His stand on this issue may become one of his most notable accomplishments.
If you want to learn more, check out the website of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which has pushed for saving this river from pollution for six long years. This fight has been one marked by great endurance fed by love for this river.
Nowadays instead of "Save the Buffalo River -- Again!" the mission of all the people of Arkansas should be to "Save the Buffalo River -- Forever! "
Commentary on 12/10/2019