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When diverse backgrounds meet over a shared issue, especially in a microcosm the size of our state, gatherings can run hot and cold, but are important for figuring out what our values really are. Farmers and professors, children and elders, folks of different ethnicities and skin color, and rural and urban residents have all been touched by the plight of our country's first national river that runs through us, the "us" that is Arkansas.

As all who have followed assaults on the Buffalo National River know, the location and operation of a confined animal feeding operation on one of its tributaries, Big Creek, has brought defenders together to delve into the process, the politics, and the pollution of pigs near our river. When the state approved a permit for this feeding operation in 2012, few citizens in the county, region or state were aware such a thing was being planned because public notification was virtually nil and public reaction time was closed. Then the process began for people to sort out just what was happening, who the owners and financial backers were, what their permit restricted or required, and why the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality would approve such a thing?

Common sense told people without a financial stake in the farm that hog manure slurry spread on hilly fields with thin topsoil would not be a good thing for the water downstream. The battle lines were perceived to be between local farmers' rights to do what they wanted to manage their farming business and recreational visitors, who did not relish the idea of floating down or swimming in a contaminated river. But it is really the huge economic investment and loan entities that have the power to wave their state permit in the faces of increasingly concerned advocates for the river's protection. Lawsuits have been filed, an agricultural agency team has studied the situation and sort of gathered data, hearings have been held at numerous stages, but the hog farm remains operational with 6,500 pigs in residence. Now the owners are applying to expand their manure spreading over what will eventually amount to almost 25 percent of the river's watershed.

Activists trying to get the powers-that-be to listen to the science they have been analyzing in the Buffalo watershed have been ignored. In a science and music program last week sponsored by the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (http://buffaloriveralliance.org), Dr. Van Brahana, retired professor of hydrogeology at the University of Arkansas and a past research scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey, said, "I have written a significant number of letters and voluntary offerings to governors (Beebe and Hutchinson), to heads of ADEQ, and to legislators. I have had zero -- zero -- responses the entire time."

It's not like the team of volunteers of the "Karst Hydrogeology of the Buffalo National River Project" are just a bunch of random bystanders. Besides Brahana, the team has members with professions or studies in chemistry, hazardous waste, agriculture, fishery science, karstology and waterborne health impacts.

While the government folks have refused to even acknowledge that the manure fields sit atop Swiss cheese-like rock formations called "karst" underneath the shallow soil, these scientists have gone about doing dye, dissolved oxygen, nutrient, E. coli bacteria, and trace metal tests and data analysis. Non-toxic dye has shown water to be moving 2,500 feet per day instead of the 10-15 feet per year most groundwater moves because karst limestone caves and crevices are open pathways for rapid water movement. The team's findings also indicate water is becoming impaired.

On a happier note, to emphasize the beauty, history and special wonder of Buffalo River country, Fayetteville's musical treasure, "Still On the Hill," plans to perform free concerts (with free CD's) in communities and schools, etc., across the state. "Still A River" songs are stories and poetry from the heart that express love and respect for the river and for the people who have lived and worked along side it throughout history.

The duo is raising money (tax deductible) to fund this collaborative project and currently there is a $5,000 match challenge to help toward their goal of sharing the music with as many people as possible. Go to: www.stillonthehill.com to help out.

"A lacework of branches crisscrossed overhead

Dropping Dogwood blossoms on the riverbed

A twisted juniper high on a bluff

In a craggy old voice, whispered to us

Buffalo River ... Flow River

Across ... this wild land

Unspoiled ... by the hand of man."

-- "From Ponca to Pruitt" -- A Tribute to Ken Smith

Commentary on 04/26/2016

Print Headline: Love for a river

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