Two Million Gallons of Pig Waste Next to a National River? What a Load of Hogwash!
By Emily Jones, Senior Program Manager, Southeast Region
Imagine a factory farm with thousands of confined pigs and tons of waste just six miles upstream from a pristine river where hundreds of thousands of people fish, boat, and swim each year. Gross as it sounds, this place exists. A supplier for the international meat conglomerate Cargill recently built an industrial pig facility near Mt. Judea, Arkansas. This facility is the first confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) ever permitted in Arkansas—and it is already poised to pollute one of our nation’s most cherished waterways, Buffalo National River.
The CAFO, known as the C&H Hog Farms, is located on the banks of Big Creek, a major tributary of Buffalo National River. C&H was designed to hold a staggering 6,500 animals—and generate some 2 million gallons of manure and other waste each year.
Who could have thought this was acceptable?
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), that’s who. The agency approved the permit for the facility to operate in 2012, and Director Teresa Marks maintains that the environmental assessment the agency conducted showed no conflict in discharging millions of gallons of pig poop so close to a major body of water. One of Arkansas’ most respected hydrogeologists disagrees, and recently called on ADEQ to suspend the permit they issued based on significant errors, omissions, and misrepresentations in the agency’s environmental assessment.
Complicating the matter, C&H owners took out a $3.5 million loan to build the monster facility, and the loan is federally guaranteed by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The FSA failed to give the public or the Park Service notice of what it was doing. Last month, NPCA, along with its partners, the Ozark Society, the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, and the Arkansas Canoe Club, filed notice that it will sue the FSA if it does not take action to revise the environmental assessment and loan guarantee, or otherwise resolve the issue by July 8, 2013.
NPCA is not anti-farmer. Other pig farms have operated sensibly in this area for years, but these smaller family farms generally house just two or three hundred pigs each—less than one-twentieth the number of animals that this massive operation was designed to handle. We have heard reports that Cargill is currently investigating other areas near Buffalo National River as potential CAFO sites—if we do not challenge this facility, it could set a dangerous precedent that opens up the possibility of more pig manure “rolling downhill,” so to speak, into this sensitive area.
What’s at stake? A truly stunning natural area that draws recreational visitors from around the region and around the country.
More than a million people visit Buffalo National River each year to enjoy its spectacular setting, fish and swim in its waters, visit its historic sites, and hike the park’s 100 miles of trails. According to a 2012 report released by Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, the Buffalo River region supported 3,495 jobs and generated nearly $25 million in state and local taxes in 2012 alone.
This beauty—and the economic benefits it brings the region—is closely tied to the quality of the water. Fortunately, there are plenty of other places in Arkansas that would support a few thousand pigs without putting federally protected areas at risk. That is why NPCA hopes to reason with Cargill to move the facility—but we could use your help.
Please tell Cargill Chairman Gregory Page to relocate this farm to a more appropriate part of the state. There is no excuse to keep a polluting CAFO so close to nationally important waters. Let’s keep the Buffalo clean and pristine!