The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission in Little Rock on Friday barred any new permits for big swine factory farms on the Buffalo National River Watershed over the next five years.
The new rule prohibits Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality from issuing new permits to operations confining more than 750 swine weighing over 55 pounds, or 3,000 swine weighing less than 55 pounds.
For now the only permitted operation is C&H Hog Farms near Mt. Judy in Newton County situated on Big Creek, a tributary to the Buffalo River—which counts 6500 swine.
“I think our primary concern… just regards the geology of this area… and the transmission of hard farm waste through the subsurface. That’s probably our overarching concern,” said Alan Nye, President of the Ozark Society.
Factory swine farms flush sewage from confined animal feeding operations referred to as CAFOs — into on-site lagoons. The untreated sewage is sprayed onto nearby farm fields as fertilizer.
And that’s why the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and Ozark Society petitioned PC&E in April of 2014 to institute a swine CAFO ban, under Regulation 5 – liquid animal waste management systems, and Regulation 6 – administration of NPDES, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.
Advocates say the rule change lowers threats to water quality on the Buffalo National River posed by the land application of swine waste and permitted leakage from sewage lagoons. But Alan Nye says the five-year ban is only a temporary fix.
“I think many people in the conservation community in Arkansas would like for it to have been permanent. I think this was a compromise, cut-the baby decision and was worked out with the other side on this issue,” he said. “I think the five years is sort of a wait-and-see… what does the additional research and information… give us on this? I think the Governor’s office was helpful in sort of brokering this compromise.”
The new rule replaces a moratorium, supported by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, on factory swine farming on the Buffalo National River Watershed.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality declined talking on tape for this report but in a statement said the agency is continuing to monitor activities to assure protection of the Buffalo River Watershed, and that future decisions will look to the science and facts with respect to impact of current feeding operations on the watershed. ADEQ also said no new permits to construct new swine CAFOs in the watershed have been requested.
Three separate teams of water quality biologists, all with different interests, have been monitoring the watershed since it opened.
And public comment is being gathered through Sept. 4 on a federal court-ordered revised environmental assessment, by the Arkansas Farm Service Agency and Small Business Administration — both of which guaranteed federal loans to C&H Hog Farms.