The Buffalo River flows through the heart of the Ozarks in northwestern Arkansas, from the Boston Mountains in the west to the White River in the east. It is a special place with tall bluffs, numerous waterfalls, lazy pools and rushing rapids, and located in a remote unspoiled area. In fact, the entire river is such a special place that in 1972, Congress designated it as America’s first national river.
Across the nation there are more than 3,400 free-flowing river segments that are recognized as “outstandingly remarkable” because they have natural or cultural values of significance to our nation. Under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the National Park Service maintains the Nationwide Rivers Inventory (NRI), a national listing of river segments that are free flowing and have one or more outstandingly remarkable values. As magnets for tourism and outdoor recreation, rivers such as the Buffalo provide additional dollars to their area’s economy and support many area jobs.
However, a large Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) has been built in the Buffalo River watershed where 6,500 pigs are housed generating more than 2 million gallons of waste each year. The waste is collected in shallow pits which drain to a settling basin and then to a holding pond with a capacity to hold almost 2 million gallons of waste. This waste is applied to 17 fields adjacent to or in close proximity to Big Creek, a major tributary to the Buffalo River. At full capacity, the 6,500 hogs could produce as much excrement as a town of 35,000 people. The waste management plan for this large CAFO has been compared to a town of 35,000 people without a sewage treatment plant. The effects of runoff to rivers from CAFO waste application sites are far reaching. The added nutrients from CAFOs can create harmful algal blooms, fish kills, smell, and potential health risks to humans and wildlife.
The capacity of businesses to circumvent existing environmental laws to install CAFOs in high risk areas should be stopped. Large CAFOs permitted, or subsidized through federal loan guarantee assistance in the watershed of any river listed in the National Park Service's Nationwide Rivers Inventory should be held to higher scrutiny and special conditions.
The Arkansas Wildlife Federation urges the adoption of the Large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations in Special Resource Waters resolution. It may be too late to protect the Buffalo River from harmful runoff from a large CAFO but other “outstandingly remarkable” rivers will benefit. Hopefully, this resolution will create policy that will help enforce laws already in place - making it difficult to receive permits and federal funding (taxpayer dollars) to fund big business to pollute our most precious streams.