Keeping a watch on the Buffalo River
One of the many duties of our Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is to issue permits to farmers who maintain livestock and poultry operations. This does not usually attract much attention from the general public. But this year has been different because of the C&H Hog Farm in Newton County. ADEQ issues permits and guidelines instructing farms on the proper disposal of animal waste. This particular operation is near Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo River. There is concern, that despite regulatory requirements, waste from the thousands of animals could eventually find its way into the Buffalo.
The Buffalo River is unquestionably a treasure, both for Arkansas and for America. As our country’s first national river, it has been a source of Natural State pride for generations. As you can imagine, my office has received numerous calls and e-mails from Arkansans worried about the potential environmental harm the hog farm could have on the Buffalo and its tributaries.
First let me say that, based on previous legal interpretations, neither I nor my ADEQ Director has the legal authority to unilaterally halt a properly permitted farming operation, or to declare an executive moratorium on such farms near certain bodies of water. When concern began to grow about the C&H Hog Farm, I had ADEQ officials review the entire permitting process to ensure that the farm’s owner had followed all state requirements and procedures. And he had. The farm has plans in place to manage waste disposal and undergo regular testing and monitoring.
However, while the State may not have the authority to stop the operation of a legally permitted farm, we do have the authority to go above and beyond the required diligence for environmental monitoring. Next month, I will ask the Arkansas Legislative Council to authorize $250,000 to establish additional testing in areas on and near the C&H Hog Farm. Soil-and-water experts from the University of Arkansas will oversee this effort and determine the best areas to place monitoring wells and conduct tests. This will allow us to more thoroughly determine if unsafe levels of waste could reach Big Creek and the Buffalo River, and to take preventive action if that occurs.
This is an extraordinary step that we do not deem necessary with other farms. I chose this action for two reasons. First, we all share the desire to preserve the pristine nature of the Buffalo River. In addition, this hog farm is the first in the State to receive what is called a CAFO or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation permit. The CAFO permit was created two years ago by a change in federal law, and this additional testing will help ensure that there are no unintended consequences that result from that change.
I have said, for years, that in most cases, a balance can be found between operating our businesses and caring for the environment. My hope is that such a balance will be possible in Newton County. I recognize that the stakes are especially high when the Buffalo River is involved, and there may be future legislation proposed to address this specific issue. For the immediate future, I expect that this extra monitoring will put minds at ease and ensure that America’s first national river will always be protected and preserved.