Environmental and community groups worried about the impact of C&H Hog Farm, a 6,500 hog operation near the Big Creek tributary to the Buffalo National River, are raising concerns about what they say is a serious oversight by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. Officials from the National Park Service recommended to ADEQ that Big Creek and two other tributaries of the Buffalo be declared “impaired waters” under the Clean Water Act. ADEQ’s recently released draft list of impaired water bodies failed to include Big Creek or the other streams, however. ADEQ will have a public hearing on March 1 at 2 pm to take public comments on the draft.
Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance said that Big Creek is having environmental problems that may be related to the hog farm. Watkins got in touch by email:
Back in October, the National Park Service/ Buffalo National River sent a letter to ADEQ recommending that Big Creek and two other tributaries of the Buffalo be declared “impaired waters” and asking that they be included on the 2016 303(d) Clean Water Act List Of Impaired Waters in Arkansas. Buffalo River Watershed Alliance received a copy of the letter via a FOIA request to ADEQ.
According to USGS data, Big Creek has been chronically below the ADEQ minimum allowable limit for dissolved oxygen. Low dissolved oxygen is a result of excessive algae growth due to high nutrient levels and can have a serious negative impact on aquatic life and overall water quality. High nutrient levels can come from many sources but it’s a pretty safe bet, and common sense suggests, that a 6,500 head hog factory in the watershed may be a contributing factor.
However, ADEQ recently released their Draft 2016 Impaired Waterbodies List and neither Big Creek, nor the other two streams recommended by NPS are included. To our knowledge, ADEQ has provided no explanation for disregarding the advice of NPS, the accepted and most respected stewards of the Buffalo. For streams on the 303(d) list, measures must be taken to identify the sources of impairment and steps must be taken to reduce their impact. The 303(d) list is prepared every 2 years and ADEQ is having a public hearing on March 1 at 2 pm to discuss the draft 2016 303(d) list. We think the public should be made aware of this oversight by ADEQ and that citizens concerned with preserving the extraordinary waters of the Buffalo should attend this hearing and submit their comments for the record.
The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance was part of the coalition of environmental and community groups which sued two federal agencies for failing to provide an adequate environmental assessment of C&H Hog Farm. A federal judge ordered those agencies, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA), to do another assessment. We mentioned last week that the comment period just closed on the new environmental assessment, which found “no significant impact.” The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and other similar groups denounced the agencies’ finding.