In the state of Arkansas, set in the Ozark Mountains, is a town called Harrison. Population 12,953. It has a city hall. Houses set on quaint tree-lined streets, and like any town of this size, a Public Works Department that takes care of city streets and manages waste. In fact, it takes a crew of four people working full time just to manage the waste produced here in Harrison, and that system costs millions of dollars to build and run.
How much waste do 5000 hogs make? More than a small town like Harrison, which made for a curious coincidence when a HOG CAFO appeared a few miles away.
What’s a “CAFO”? It’s a “concentrated animal feeding operation.” In the Ozark Mountains, this new facility has jammed thousands of hogs into two warehouses. Beside the warehouses stand two open ponds filled with hog waste. Welcome to Poopytown, a factory farm that produces as much waste as the entire town of Harrison, with one major difference: Harrison spends millions of dollars to treat its wastewater, while the waste from this CAFO isn’t treated at all.
The CAFO spreads millions of gallons of untreated liquid hog waste on nearby fields as part of a plan called “Comprehensive Nutrient Management”; to be clear, the “nutrient” they’re managing is hog poop. This poop eventually leaches into the ground, which is a problem, because this region is characterized by topography referred to by geologists as “karst”; imagine a shallow topsoil layer over a highly porous limestone bedrock interlaced with cracks, sinkholes, caves and underground waterways, all of which make it easy for liquid hog waste to seep into the ground and end up Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo River, which the National Parks Service declared our first National River in 1972. Picture 135 miles of one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the United States. That may explain why the prospect of polluting this river made so many people living in the Ozarks upset.
“This is a national river. It belongs to the people of the United States. It is a treasure not only to us, but the nation. We live in one of the poorest, least populated counties in the state, and the Buffalo River pumps millions of dollars into our local economy. And this swine CAFO is the first and largest of its kind that was ever permitted in the state of Arkansas and it’s located five miles upstream on a major tributary of the Buffalo River. As people, individuals like myself, became aware of what a huge threat this was, we began to talk. We began to strategize about what we could do not only to stop this one, but to prevent more from coming into the area.” - Gordon Watkins, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance