Friday, September 30, 2016

Gov. Hutchinson announces a Buffalo River committee UPDATE

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 10:26 AM

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Gov. Asa Hutchinson called in press this morning to announce an interagency "action committee" to share information about the Buffalo River.

He was joined by heads of five state departments of Environmental Quality, Health, Agriculture, Parks and Tourism and Natural Resources.

 It's not a new regulatory agency, the governor emphasized. He's merely attempting to direct a co-ordinated effort toward watershed protection. He said it would "encourage voluntary action," to correct problems, say a road cut in such a way to lead to erosion that puts silt in water.

Here's a link to his directive.

I suspect some of this has to do with a spate of recent publicity about algae problems in the river. Ongoing, of course, is the question of whether a factory hog farm located next to a major Buffalo tributary is leaking pig waste. Hutchinson has been a defender of the river. But the agriculture industry's objection to close scrutiny of the hog farm has been gaining strength. If the Buffalo River can be protected, any body of water perhaps could be protected, that thinking goes.

I was forwarded these photos recently by a Buffalo River fan. A canoeist took them on an 11.5-mile stretch between Gilbert and South Maumee. In addition to algae, sometimes several feet thick, she reported that they frequently encountered a musty smell. Sometimes the algae was too thick to paddle through, the note said.

UPDATE: The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance issued a statement about the governor's announcement:

The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance Inc.(BRWA) recognizes the proposals announced by the Governor’s Office as a positive first step for the Buffalo National River. We appreciate that the Governor’s office is acknowledging that there are serious issues affecting the water quality and health of this Arkansas treasure. For this to be viewed as more than a public relations initiative, we would expect to see actual good faith steps taken by the Governor’s Office and ADEQ to identify and eliminate the obvious risks to the Buffalo. Such steps would demonstrate genuine sincerity towards the river’s interests that would immediately bind stakeholders to the Governor’s efforts. BRWA as a stakeholder has not been solicited for input to this proposal, though we are pleased to be considered for involvement and we will have more to say as we learn more about the details.

An additional strong step that the Governor’s office could include in their program or run parallel to it, would be to initiate a review of the permitting processes where watersheds high in geologic karst such as the Buffalo that result in swift groundwater flows, receive appropriate additional scrutiny before a permit is granted. The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (BRWA) would be happy to participate in finding common ground that would address the best interests of the watershed which would in turn ensure a robust tourism economy in the river’s gateway communities for years to come. Such a review should consider making the moratorium on medium and large CAFOs permanent.

Finally, a non-point source initiative on reducing nutrients similar to that in the Illinois river watershed is highly appropriate for an extraordinary resource water such as the Buffalo National River. Such a focus would be strongly supported by BRWA as stakeholder.

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