We reported Aug. 20 a letter from a Cargill executive expressing the company’s intention to stand by the hog feeding operation it supports in the Buffalo River watershed, but to take necessary steps to prevent pollution of the watershed and also stating its plans for no further hog feeding operations in the watershed.
Today, the Buffalo River Coalition indicated it wasn’t reassured. From a release:
“While our coalition is pleased that Cargill has voluntarily committed to a moratorium on future hog facilities in the Buffalo River watershed, a Confined Animal Feeding Operation should not have been placed directly upstream from America’s first national river to begin with,” said National Parks Conservation Association Program Manager Emily Jones. “It seems contradictory to acknowledge that expensive, experimental technologies are needed to mitigate a so-called ‘state of the art facility’s’ impacts, while having also stated that no harmful bacteria or nutrients will reach the river – which one is correct and are these technologies going to prevent contamination or create more?”
Specifically, the coalition working to preserve the Buffalo took exception to some of the environmental techniques Cargill has proposed:
Cargill has committed to support “new, leading edge technology for nutrient management,” specifically a Plasma Pyrolysis process, which experts call an untested and unproven technology for handling liquid swine waste. In their response to Cargill’s proposals, the Buffalo River Coalition stated that implementing this program as a solution would turn C & H, Mt. Judea and the Buffalo National River into “a research laboratory for a private company to test a new application for a process heretofore used for medical waste and other solid material disposal.” And that “the Buffalo River watershed is not the place to carry out such risky experiments.”
“Rather than moving the facility to a region without porous karst geology, a school next door or a national river 6 miles downstream, Cargill has dug its heels in and offered the people of Arkansas and national park supporters across the country mitigation measures that leave the fate of our first national river to chance,” said Buffalo River Watershed Alliance President Gordon Watkins. “This is not the place for an experiment and we shouldn’t be rolling the dice with Arkansas’ crown jewel. There is one solution: remove the facility from the Buffalo River watershed.”
Additionally, Cargill stated its intention to install synthetic membrane waste pond liners. While liners can provide added protection against waste leakage, published information by USDA and others indicates that installation must be done with great care and that a method for leak detection is highly desirable. Avoiding damage to the liners due to agitation and sludge removal is difficult. Millions of gallons of swine feces and urine will still pose a significant risk to both surface and underground water – with the potential for permanent damage to the Buffalo River.
The Coalition contends Cargill made misrepresentations in seeking a permit for the hog farm and has argued the permitting process should be reopened. Bottom line for the coalition continues to be the Buffalo River watershed is no place for a hog farm.
“We’re not talking about a what-if catastrophic scenario, though that’s certainly possible too. The National Park Service has expressed concern over the gradual buildup of pollutants in the river,” said Bob Allen, board member of the Arkansas Canoe Club. “Cargill isn’t just jeopardizing our state’s environmental health, they’re jeopardizing our entire tourism economy. Hardly a fair trade for the 6 jobs that C & H supports. In contrast, the Buffalo supports $44 million in spending and 610 jobs annually.”
The coalition closes its letter to Cargill by stating: “We will also continue to educate the public about the unacceptable risks posed by the inappropriate location of this swine CAFO and we will encourage Cargill as well as state agencies and governmental bodies to recognize the true costs of allowing this risk to continue. We support nothing short of closure or relocation.”
Dr. Joe Nix of Arkadelphia, the noted water scientist whose inquiries drew the initial Cargill response letter, has provided me with his own rejoinder. Again, says Nix, the only solution is no hog feeding operation. He says Cargill took advantage of a loophole in permit rules intended to help small farmers to drive thousands of feeder hogs through. Read it on the jump:
September 6, 2014
President, Cargill Pork
151 N Main Street
Wichita, KS 67202
Dear Mr. Luker:
If you will recall, you called me some weeks ago regarding the C&H Farm issue in Newton County, Arkansas. In that conversation you indicated to me Cargill would be conducting stakeholder meetings to discuss alternatives to the type of operation which is planned (some of which is already underway). I do not know how you define stakeholder but it appears to me that your meetings included mostly groups and individuals holding the same views as Cargill. Clearly this does not constitute an appropriate meaning of the word “stakeholder”. If it was your intention to have a cross section of those impacted by this project and with a variety of attitudes, you did not remotely accomplish this.
To my knowledge, your company has at no time in this process included the National Park System as a Stakeholder in this project. To not consider the National Park Service as a stakeholder is ridiculous. Here in Northern Arkansas is one of the most beautiful rivers in this country. The Congress of the United States recognized this when they passed a bill which the President signed, designating the Buffalo River as the first NATIONAL RIVER IN THE UNITED STATES. This action brought the oversight of the river under National Parks jurisdiction. As authorized in the bill, the National Park Service in essence, bought the land adjacent to approximately a 150 mile stretch of the river. They are responsible for protecting the river, as well as making it reasonably accessible for recreational use, which includes water contact oriented recreation.
C&H Farm is located near Big Creek which is a tributary of the Buffalo. The C&H Farm is located approximately 6 miles upstream from the Buffalo near Pruitt, Arkansas. Disposal of waste consists of holding the material in relatively small ponds of questionable integrity, then spreading the waste on fields adjacent to Big Creek. This limited “treatment” would be questionable under any circumstances given the probability of runoff entering Big Creek and subsequently the Buffalo River. There is an additional process which occurs in this area that is more complicated which raises the risk factor for damage to the Big Creek and the Buffalo to a much higher level. This section of the Buffalo has a great deal of limestone which results in karst formations throughout the area. In karst topography water does not all move slowly through alluvial soils where many constituents are removed by filtration. Rather, a sizable portion of the water (or waste water) moves into small cave structures prevalent in this area. In this cave environment, water moves quickly, thus shortcutting the filtration process. The potential impact on the receiving river system is obvious.
I assume that it is the recognition that 1) such processes are possible and that 2) a National River is involved, is what prompted you to tell me that “Cargill had made a mistake and that it was your job to find a solution.” From your letter dated August 20, 2014, I can only conclude that you did not find a practical solution. Rather it was simply a solution or collection of solutions on which your hand picked stakeholder agreed.
With regard to the actual permitting process, there is a loophole in the water quality regulations (permitting process) of which Cargill took full advantage. This has to do with the process by which C&H Farm obtained a permit from Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and subsequently approved by the Arkansas Department of Pollutions Control and Ecology. Although I am not a lawyer or a legal expert, I do not think C&H Farm violated the regulations of PC&E. However, to understand the loophole, one must have at least some understanding of the history of what is called the General Permit Regulation of PC&E. Please let me explain. Some years ago, Arkansas had uniform water quality standards throughout the entire state. A group of very good scientists at the Department of Environmental Quality (it had another name back then) developed water quality standards for each eco region of Arkansas, recognizing that standards from the Southern part of the state are not applicable to a mountain stream in northern Arkansas. This was a very progressive move when it was done. Arkansas was the first or near the first state to develop such a system.
Eco-region standards were based on the water quality of a relatively un-impacted stream within that region. Extensive data was obtained from such streams in each of the regions and these numbers were used as the basis of water quality standards. But, of course, there was a problem in basing the standards on a relative pristine stream knowing full well that there is no way that all industries and municipalities could comply. Clearly there had to be a mechanism in place to allow ADEQ to review permit applications from a sound scientific basis and see if changing the standards would negatively impact the receiving stream. Such a review could involve a Use Attanability Analysis (UAA) or possibly a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS). Both studies are difficult and often expensive yet they are necessary for PC&E to have good scientific data on which to base their permitting decision. This process (third party rule making) has been used over 100 times in recent years and none have failed to be approved by PC&E.
This process of what amounts to a change of water quality standards began to be applied to even small CAFOs, the type which have been in the Ozarks for many years. The development of UAAs or EISs for these relatively small operations became cost prohibitive for many. As a result, a General Permit Rule was adopted to allow a “general permit” to be issued if the operation met certain limited specifications. Actually the general permit provision has not been used a lot but remember, its original purpose was to help the smaller operator. Now comes Cargill, one of the largest companies in the world and they decide (or C&H Farm decides in conjunction with Cargill) to use this provision to prevent Cargill or C&H Farm from having to go through the more detailed environmental review.
Although probably not illegal, it is clearly unethical for a very large company to take advantage of an unavoidable mistake in developing a rule. This has resulted in the fact that C&H Farm was issued a permit without the detailed scientific review which would have been required if they had applied through the regular industrial type program (NPDES).
Shame on you Cargill!
Joe F. Nix, Ph.D. and STAKEHOLDER