Buffalo River - Marion, Searcy, Newton Counties

National parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, and Arkansas’s Buffalo National River are undoubtedly national treasures. Not only do these national parks provide rich, national history and breathtaking, natural beauty, but they also benefit the overall economy where they are located.

If you have lived in the Natural State very long, then there is no doubt that at one point in your life you have visited one of our most beloved areas of the state, the Buffalo National River.  Families, nature-enthusiasts, and adventure seekers alike travel from all corners of the state, country, and the world to enjoy a day hike through the scenic trails, canoe down long, curvy stretches of the river, test out their angling skills, or just take a swim in the crystal clear waters.

According to a recent National Park Service report, there were an estimated 1,463,304 visitors to the Buffalo National River in 2015. These visitors brought in $62,243,200 to the nearby communities while supporting 969 jobs with an overall benefit of $72,009,000 to the local economy. Not only is the Buffalo National River a treasure; its existence is what keeps the economy flowing for many Arkansans.

The Buffalo National River and the surrounding areas attract visitors from near and far due to the rejuvenating and family-friendly environment. However, in 2013, this magnificent natural resource began to change and is still undergoing a change that could cost Arkansas over $72 million in economic benefits.

The Beginning
In 2013, a swine CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) was permitted on Big Creek, a tributary to Buffalo River. C & H Hog Farms, owners of the CAFO, is a private Arkansas corporation, contracted by JBS (a Brazilian-based multinational conglomerate). A multi-million dollar taxpayer-guaranteed loan provided funding for the farm’s construction and equipment.  However, the farm does not own the animals or the feed. What they do own is the mortgage and the waste.

The Problem
C & H Hog Farm houses an estimated 6,500 swine on its property. These animals produce more sewage than a city of 30,000 people. Where does it all go? According to reports, the hog farm is permitted to spread UNTREATED wastewater containing urine and feces on 17 fields within two miles of the barns. In addition to the initial permit, a modification was made in 2016 to allow raw swine sewage to be spread on an additional 32 fields that were up to 12 miles away from the barns.

The Risk
The C & H Hog Farm waste spreading fields lie along Big Creek and other tributaries in the watershed of the Buffalo River. Data collected by the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey in Big Creek at Carver shows decreasing dissolved oxygen levels, an indicator of waste overload, which can lead to fish kills and loss of invertebrates.

In addition to the water in streams and rivers, groundwater is also being affected. Beneath C & H Hog Farm lies Ozark karst, which is fractured limestone. Water seeps into this porous bedrock and moves through all the cracks, crevices, and caverns and easily finds its way to the river and groundwater. The untreated swine sewage is high in phosphorus and nitrogen. When applied to fields already rich in these nutrients, or to seasonally dormant fields, the crop cannot absorb the “fertilizer”. Excess nutrients either become waste runoff or seep through the soil to reach bedrock.

The Issue
Reports have been prepared which indicate that C & H Hog Farm does not pose an environmental threat to the area or to the river. These reports were put together by two organizations: FSA (Farm Service Agency) and SBA (Small Business Administration). FSA and SBA provided 75% to 95% of the loan guarantees for the C & H Hog Farm loans. This suggests that these federal agencies are financial partners with the farm. FSA and SBA retained EESI (Environmental and Energy Study Institute) to perform the Environmental Assessment (EA) and write the draft report. According to sources, FSA and SBA were also involved in the overall preparation of the report.

The Resolution
Because of this, it is reasonable to believe that the FSA and SBA would not want an EA commissioned by them to conclude there was a significant risk to the environment from C & H Hog Farm. It is strongly believed that the FSA and SBA played a significant role in the reports to the EA by influencing the information used or urging the omitting of information from EESI’s conclusions to the EA. The significant bias from which the reports were created has failed to accurately identify and characterize the nature and extent of the significant adverse impacts this hog farm operation will have on groundwater quality within the Buffalo River Basin.

In order to prevent further harm to the surrounding land, groundwater, and the Buffalo River, Friends of the North Fork and White River recommends an Environmental Impact Study be prepared by an independent, non-biased, and qualified individual or organization taking into consideration all relevant studies. This study should include the entire acreage of the farming operation as well as all waters that receive the contribution from groundwater emanating from the farm and the wildlife in these areas.

Are their health concerns? The answer is YES! More than 70 scientific papers document the adverse health effects of swine waste on workers and people living nearby, especially children.

-One of the C & H waste spreading fields is located just 330 feet from Mt. Judea School.
-The distance from C & H Hog Farm waste lagoons to Big Creek is approximately 2,400 feet. The distance from Big Creek to the Buffalo River is approximately 4.5 miles. 
-Local residents breathe fumes laden with hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and minute particles of swine waste containing endotoxins. 
-E. coli and other pathogens enter waterways, threaten swimmers, pets, farm animals and fish, and can cause toxic algae blooms.
-Elevated bacterial levels already detected in parts of the Buffalo River and its tributaries may trigger public health warnings urging visitors to avoid the use of affected waterways.

Visitors to the Buffalo River expect to find a healthy, clean river. Local businesses and small family farms depend on its clean, safe waters to make a living in this rural watershed. If this problem continues to grow, the Buffalo National River will be nothing more than just a memory. Aquatic ecologist, Faron Usery, said it best, “The American ‘experiment’ of national parks will fail unless there is a revival for the love of the natural and an understanding of old-fashioned land ethics for us all, especially our children.”

If you are lacking in time but would still like to help, you can now donate on the website. Your gift to the watershed defense fund helps provide the funds needed in support of our collective partners protecting the Buffalo or facing other watershed issues where there is a need to afford attorneys, engineers, consultants and experts who understand the complex issues we face.  This fund is used exclusively for such purposes and is always subject to the approval of the Board.

We MUST protect the health and beauty of our country’s first national river.