MIKE MASTERSON: Governor’s response
Posted: April 18, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.
I was surprised to see Gov. Asa Hutchinson's response on the Voices page last week to my open letter in a column that ran last April (republished two weeks ago). I'd appealed to his role as the chief protector of our Buffalo National River to stop the inevitable contamination from hog waste continuously being spread by C&H Hog Farms on fields along Big Creek, a major tributary of the Buffalo.
I'm sharing only three edited reactions to Hutchinson's letter from informed citizens and scientists who've invested years of research and personal resources toward protecting the country's first national river.
Science indeed leads Gordon Watkins, head of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance: "Many have been asking the governor to make the C&H owners whole by buying them out. Making this a 'property rights' issue only makes resolution more difficult. ... Because there was no public notice, ADEQ's errors went unchallenged until it was too late," he said.
"When the governor writes: 'Science, not emotion, must drive our approach,' he's parroting the Farm Bureau. Yes, science should indeed lead. Then he says, 'The science tells me there's no evidence of a release from the storage ponds.' Any scientist will tell him this is an invalid conclusion based on a single bore hole.
"Science does indeed show evidence of negative impact to Big Creek, whether from the ponds or, more likely, from the waste spreading fields. Hard data collected by the Big Creek Extension Research Team, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as geoscientist Dr. John Van Brahana, all are sounding alarms.
"Again, the Farm Bureau seems to be whispering in his ear and cherry-picking data ... . If the governor will read our 98 pages of comments he'll find plenty of facts and science-based arguments.
"The governor also says work has progressed on a watershed management (WMP) plan to help identify opportunities for protecting and enhancing the Buffalo watershed. At the last WMP meeting, Big Creek was conspicuously absent from the proposed list of priority streams where attention would be focused until public objections compelled the contractor to reluctantly include that major Buffalo tributary. At every turn, relevant state agencies are looking the other way rather than confronting the obvious source of the problem.
"Hutchinson says, 'the drilling study evaluated the integrity of C&H's pond liners.' That's mistaken. That study looked only at a single anomaly while specifically avoiding any comprehensive evaluation of pond integrity.
"Finally the governor says, '... public and private projects are now being advanced to focus on protection and preservation.' Yet he emphasizes their voluntary, 'nonregulatory' focus. Valid protection of the Buffalo requires regulatory changes."
UA geosciences professor emeritus John Van Branaha, an expert on karst geology, has worked closely with at least eight other scientists and specialists to voluntarily study potential environmental effects of the hog factory on the watershed.
Brahana cited his peer-reviewed scientific findings: "First water flows downhill, always following the path of least resistance. which in karst terrain is underground. Spreading fields underlain by karst receive feces and urine from 6,500 hogs.
"Groundwater samplings from wells and springs near the fields show increasing trends of contaminants. Dye tracings from selected sites close to the fields show rapid transmission of groundwater, typically 2,000 feet daily. Dye tests following heavy rains when groundwater levels are elevated show the flow moves beneath surface water divides to reach springs, wells and streams. The tests also show groundwater during high flow events moved to the Buffalo River downhill from where dye was input."
Brahana said such significant findings and more have previously been sent to the governor and others without being addressed. He also hopes the governor will show enough interest to invest an hour with him to review the documented science and related presentation he shared at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute during our recent workshop together. Why wouldn't the governor?
Much science presented
Carol Bitting (aka the watershed warrior): "The governor writes he's made sure the public and regulatory agencies have all the facts. Specifically, he says he's directed funding toward two separate and impartial scientific studies around C&H Hog Farms.
"His statement is so similar to those of the Pork Producers' Jerry Masters and Evan Teague of the Farm Bureau that it sheds light on why he cites only two studies, while the ADEQ's own 1990s study of hog CAFOs in the Buffalo watershed is ignored.
"The algae photographs of last September reveal truth of the Buffalo's pollution. The Beautiful Buffalo River Action Plan excludes permitted facilities. Does the governor think we believe 6,500 hogs producing eight times the amount of waste as one human then spread over sinkholes and fractures year around doesn't make its way to the river?
"Many scientific documents have been submitted, including reputable scientific data. To base the scientific 'evidence' on two studies (each designed outside state agency handbook recommendations) while excluding all the relevant science here makes me wonder how, and why, the governor can release a statement such as this."
Mike Masterson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial on 04/18/2017