Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
KUAF Public Radio includes an interview with BRWA
By JACQUELINE FROELICH • FEB 19, 2021
In the first months of his presidency, Donald Trump issued an executive order rescinding the “Waters of the United States” rule, promulagated by President Barak Obama in 2015 to protect certain streams, wetlands, and groundwater under the Clean Water Act. Now, President Joe Biden has ordered the rule to be reinstated. U.S. Senator John Boozman, (R-AR) claims it will devastate agriculture and industry. Arkansas water quality advocate, Gordon Watkins, says all U.S. waters require protection.
Listen to the story here
Newton County in the Buffalo River watershed is included in this program
by Doug Thompson | February 7, 2021
Owners of homes in Northwest Arkansas that have septic tanks will soon have help repairing and replacing them as part of an effort to protect the region's watersheds.
One-third of the state's population, or about 1.1 million people, depend on septic systems, said Richard McMullen, the state environmental health director. Even a tiny percentage of failing systems would affect thousands of people, he said.
The state Natural Resources Commission approved, for the first time, more than $2.5 million in taxpayer-funded, interest-free loans and some grants to address the problem, starting in Northwest Arkansas. McMullen hopes the program succeeds and can spread statewide.
The commission will evaluate the Northwest Arkansas' program after three years and consider expanding it to other particularly vulnerable watersheds, a spokesman for the commission said in a statement. A statewide program, however, is not something the commission can afford, the statement said.
Septic systems collect waste in underground tanks. The solids settle to the bottom and decompose. The liquid rises to the top and is filtered clean through soil after being dispersed through underground lines.
The Illinois River Watershed Partnership, a nonprofit, will administer the money for fixing septic systems in its watershed in Benton, Washington and Crawford counties. The group received a $281,885 grant and another $1 million in loan money.
Meanwhile, the Missouri-based Ozarks Water Watch will administer $1 million in loans with principal forgiveness and grants of $261,620 in the White River watershed in Benton, Washington, Madison, Carroll, Boone, Newton and Franklin counties.
The money will serve a real need after almost a year of the covid pandemic, said Jon Jouvenaux, owner of BBB Septic Solutions of Cave Springs.
"It's not like I need any more business. We're installing systems every day," Jouvenaux said. "But people who had really nice jobs have been out of work."
An expensive septic system repair hits people hard, especially retirees on fixed incomes who tend to have older systems reaching the end of their designed limits.
During these pandemic times with more people working from home and children attending virtual classes from home, some home septic systems are showing the strain, Jouvenaux said.
"The systems were only used in the evenings and at night before," he said. "Now they're being used all day long."
And, those systems won't recover quickly when the pandemic ends, he said.
"The only way they could stabilize is if the family took a long vacation and didn't use it at all for a couple of months," he said.
The Illinois and Ozarks groups are setting up their programs, administrators said. Both set March 1 as the target date to begin taking applications from septic system owners.
Benton County also has a program to help low-income residents pay for repairs. It's funded by federal taxpayer money, but on a much smaller scale.
The dividing line between the groups' two bordering watersheds runs along the top of high ground in Benton and Washington counties. The Illinois River flows west into Oklahoma. The watershed overseen by the Ozarks group largely goes into the eastward-running White River. That includes the watershed for Beaver Lake, the man-made source of most of Northwest Arkansas' drinking water.
Northwest Arkansas sits atop a limestone bed riven with cracks and caverns, known as a karst topography, said Matt Taylor, program director for the Illinois River group's septic tank remediation program. A failing septic system's contamination can spread in any direction underground, he said.
He emphasized that the remediation program will pay for repairs, not just replacements. A system can fail, for instance, after a vehicle rolls over the dispersion pipes and crushes them or a tree's roots spread though a pipe.
The programs will make a bigger share of grant money available to lower-income applicants, managers said. Higher income applicants will receive a greater proportion of loans that must be repaid, but at no interest.
Details are yet to be announced. Each of the program managers said their share of the money should pay for between 120 and 150 system fixes or replacements. The estimate is based on what was learned from a similar program for low-income homeowners in Missouri, managed by the Ozarks group. The average cost of a system fix there was $12,000, figures show.
Carin Love, internal operations manager for the Ozarks group, said a system could be failing without the owner being aware of it. She advised homeowners to have a licensed septic installation company inspector check their systems.
McMullen made the same point.
"With the karst topography, a failure might not be evident," he said. The foul wet spot on top of the ground that forms when a system fails can take longer to form in Northwest Arkansas.
No reliable figure exists on how many septic systems or failing ones are in the Beaver Lake watershed, much less how many need repair or replacement, according to McMullen and James McCarty, manager of environmental quality for the Beaver Water District, the nonprofit regional water supplier.
The district oversees the wholesale water supply going to city water departments in the region that serve about 358,000 customers and provide about 90 million gallons of water a day.
The water quality in Beaver Lake is very good, but fixing failing septic systems will be an important safeguard, McCarty said. The only required inspections of such systems are when they are installed, he said.
"They don't even require point of sale inspections," he said. He described record keeping on tanks around the state as "atrocious." "I think only good can come out of this," he said of the remediation plan.
The program administrators in Missouri found that some people who moved to the area were unfamiliar with septic systems.
"People moving in from areas with city sewer systems might never have learned how to take care of a septic system," Love said.
New arrivals from urban areas often buy homes in rural areas with acreage, something more affordable in this part of the nation. Then they use garbage disposals as they always have and pour grease down drains -- waste that septic systems don't tolerate as well as sewer systems do.
Groups managing the loans and grants:
Illinois River Watershed Partnership
221 S. Main St., Cave Springs
Ozarks Water Watch
11 Oak Drive, Kimberling City, Mo.
January 30, 2021
A remarkably diverse group of organizations are urging the Biden administration to issue an executive order that would enact a moratorium on mergers and acquisitions in the food and agricultural industries. Led by
Moreover, the groups ask the new administration to investigate and if appropriate, break up any companies engaged in anticompetitive practices or having excessive market share. The letter spotlights the rampant consolidation that has plagued America’s agricultural sectors and overall food system resulting in a profound loss of independent, family farmers and hollowed-out rural communities.
The details undergirding this hope-inspiring call to action by our newly inaugurated POTUS are familiar, yet remain startling: (i) the four largest processors slaughter 83 percent of beef cattle, 66 percent of hogs and half of all broiler chickens; (ii) just two companies, Ardent Mills and ADM Milling, mill half of all U.S. wheat; (iii) a few seed and agrochemical firms effectively control their markets, with the largest four companies controlling 67% and 70% of the seed and agrochemical sectors, respectively; (iv) vertically integrated agribusinesses require farmers, by one-sided contracts, to take on enormous amounts of debt, pitting farmer against farmer, which can result in unfair and abusive practices; (v) today’s farmer earns just 15 cents per food dollar; (vi) just four firms control 2/3rds of all grocery sales; and (vii) more and more revenue from rural economies is funneled to corporate headquarters and Wall Street investors.
The letter also focuses on the dangers of monopsony (as distinct from “monopoly”). In an article on Monopsony published on Investopedia,reporter Julie Young explains the meaning and economic impact of this market condition in which there is only one buyer, the monopsonist.
In a monopsony, a large buyer controls the market. Because of their unique position, monopsonies have a wealth of power. Like a monopoly, a monopsony also does not adhere to standard pricing from balancing supply-side and demand-side factors. In a monopoly, where there are few suppliers, the controlling entity can sell its product at a price of its choosing. In a monopsony, the controlling body is a buyer. This buyer may use its size advantage to obtain low prices because many sellers vie for its business.
As Annie Lowrey, staff writer at The Atlantic, explains in her must-read article, The Rise of the Zombie Small Businesses (9/4/18), a recent U.S. Small Business Administration report, called into question whether all those family chicken farms are really family chicken farms. The economic concept of monopsony explains why they’re not really family chicken farms!
Let us now praise these 28 groups who have signed this urgent letter to President Biden’s administration:
American Federation of Government Employees Council 45,
American Grassfed Association,
Animal Legal Defense Fund,
Buffalo River Watershed Alliance,
Dakota Resource Council,
Dakota Rural Action,
Green State Solutions, HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor) Food Alliance,
Family Farm Action,
Food Animal Concerns Trust,
Food & Water Watch,
Friends of the Earth,
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,
Idaho Organization of Resource Councils,
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement,
Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future,
Land Stewardship Project,
Missouri Rural Crisis Center,
National Family Farm Coalition,
Natural Resources Defense Council,
Open Markets Institute,
Organization for Competitive Markets,
Public Justice Food Project,
Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA (RAFI-USA),
Socially Responsible Agriculture Project,
Western Colorado Alliance,
Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC).
(Frank W. Barrie, 1/30/21)
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): email@example.com
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.
Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization
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