Earth Day celebrations are intended to remind us of our collective duty to care for the planet that sustains us. It's all the more poignant that Earth Day 2019 found Arkansas still grappling with the ongoing impacts of an industrial-scale hog operation within the watershed of the Buffalo National River.
In 2016, a 20-mile algal bloom was documented. Last year it was 90 miles. This spring, algae was sighted in various locations as early as March. Algae flourishes where nutrients are plentiful. The rampant growth being seen the past few years indicates that something has suddenly tipped out of balance.
Governor Hutchinson, the Buffalo can't wait! It needs your help now!
Along with algae, samples of potentially toxic cyanobacteria were found. But these are not the only concerns. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality found that water monitoring results indicated high E. coli and low dissolved oxygen, factors that led to designating portions of Big Creek and a stretch of the Buffalo, around the confluence with Big Creek, as impaired. These two segments of waterway line up with the dye test results that revealed underground transmission is widespread in the area around the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO).
JBS, the Brazil-based corporation that owns the hogs, has demonstrated little concern for the health and safety of a distant American river. But our governor should.
According to publicly available soil test results, the application fields for C&H Hog Farms are over-saturated with phosphorus. This CAFO has been denied a new permit based on evidence that it is located in an unsuitable area, along with a host of other deficiencies. Farm Bureau and other special interests are funding the long, drawn-out and complicated legal maneuvers over whether C&H Hog Farms can continue to operate in the watershed.
Meanwhile, the river is being steadily poisoned by excess phosphorus and pathogens as surely as if it has a needle stuck in its arm. Recovery cannot start until the steady influx of hog waste stops. Even then, it could take decades for the phosphorus in in the soil to flush out of the river.
Governor, the river can't wait.
In 2017 the Buffalo River made the list of America's Most Endangered Rivers. Now, two years later and with algal blooms dramatically increasing, C&H continues to produce and apply 2.7 million gallons of waste every year. That's more than 15 million gallons so far sprayed onto fields that drain into the Buffalo River.
The citizens of Arkansas as well as people all over the country have demanded immediate action to protect this national treasure. Our governor has the authority and duty to declare an emergency and require C&H to cease operations. Please step up, Governor. The river is running out of time. Farm Bureau doesn't answer to the citizens of Arkansas. You do. If you can't protect this storied waterway, then not one river, stream or reservoir is safe in Arkansas.
Will it take the collapse of the river's ecosystem, decimation of the tourism business, miles of dead and dying fish, or the entire 135 miles of river smothered in algae?
Governor, what are you waiting for?
Teresa Turk and Lin Wellford are members of the Ozark River Stewards.
Editorial on 05/09/2019
Print Headline: Buffalo can't wait