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Our treasured Buffalo National River has made the nonprofit American Rivers' annual report, "America's Most Endangered Rivers," for a second year. The suffering stream ranked eighth in the latest report's Top Ten list; it was last included in 2017.

What a disgrace that our state has created this travesty, thereby continuing to jeopardize the magnificent river USA Today readers called our state's greatest natural attraction. The malfeasance has been unbelievable to watch.

The 2019 report asserts the Buffalo is imperiled by the existence of the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) at Mount Judea.

"In 2012, a 6,500-head hog CAFO was permitted and constructed by C&H Hog Farms Inc. without public debate or input," it reads. "The hog CAFO, including massive indoor feedlots and two manure-filled ponds, sits on a hill along one of Buffalo National River's main tributaries, Big Creek, less than six miles from the mainstem of the river.

"Each year, millions of gallons of liquid hog waste are sprayed onto pastures and fields, some of which lie in a floodplain. This ... is particularly harmful where topsoil is thin and the underlying geology is a porous limestone (karst) that is prone to fissures, sinkholes and rapid transmission of groundwater into the water table.

"In fact, dye-tracing studies around the hog CAFO have shown that water can travel under mountains across 13 miles of the watershed. Consequently, contaminants in the manure fields and ponds are having far-reaching effects, including polluting groundwater wells and threatening endangered species," the report continues.

"In the past three years, unprecedented algal blooms have stretched over 70 miles downstream of the CAFO. In 2018, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) identified Big Creek and sections of the Buffalo River as impaired due to high E. coli bacterial concentrations and low dissolved oxygen."

The state denied a new permit for the CAFO after the Buffalo's 2017 listing and ordered that it be shuttered, but the owners have fought the issue in court. Depositions showed C&H failed to provide a geological assessment, draft an emergency response plan or follow other legal requirements for waste management.

The spray fields' nutrient levels far exceed those required to avoid water contamination because of incorrect carrying capacity estimates. That includes excessive phosphorus that can bind with soil enter the waterway during heavy rain, and leach underground, the report adds.

The report also mentions attorneys: "In an unprecedented move, lawyers for corporate industrial agriculture interests are questioning the right of ADEQ to do its job. As the state's designated arm of the Environmental Protection Agency, ADEQ is the sole regulator of permits designed to protect the waters of the state. ADEQ has denied the new permit for this facility.

"Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson faces pressure from agricultural lobbyists who want to frame this as a 'right to farm' issue. The American Farm Bureau is a key player in this legal fight, and they must be called to account for defending an operation that should never have been established in such a sensitive and invaluable place."

The concerned folks at American Rivers concluded by saying Hutchinson can be assured he has public opinion behind him if he takes a firm stand for preserving the endangered river, adding, "Science, not greed, should be the deciding factor.

"The governor must demand the closure of this facility now. The Buffalo National River ... belongs to every citizen of our country. Continued support from a well-informed and concerned citizenry will be necessary to stop this power grab by a corporation that clearly does not care about the health and well-being of this national treasure."

Voiced your opinion yet?

Egg-cellent hunt

Are we ever too old for a good old-fashioned Easter egg hunt? Some likely would guess somewhere around 12 years old. Others might stretch it to 16.

So it seemed a lot like a futile attempt at a Guinness World Record for two dozen of us 65-through-80-somethings to frolic once more into a rapidly greening yard to round up 100 or more multicolored plastic eggs loaded with candy.

Our decision to host this Easter's eve soiree served to reassure everyone who showed up that this whole "growing old" thing truly is more a state of mind, even though everything from arthritis to diabetes and beyond tries to convince us otherwise.

And so it came to pass in the city of Harrison yesterday that a host of wrinkled, graying young-at-hearts gathered eggs from hiding places, including a slightly larger golden one with a Snickers wrapper, and stashed them in plastic grocery bags (couldn't afford two dozen Easter baskets).

The time of life has arrived where I honestly believe I could keep all these eggs and continue to hide them from myself each day because after 24 hours I wouldn't be able to remember where I'd put them. An endless Easter Egg Hunt!

When you reflect on it, the elegant egg is a most appropriate symbol for the Easter remembrance of Christ's crucifixion and emergence from the tomb into new life. Plus, hey, I like to boil, peel and eat 'em. Happy Easter!

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 04/21/2019

Print Headline: MIKE MASTERSON: Endangered river

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