By Brian Thompson, Ozark Society President

For those of you who live in Arkansas, you have likely received the occasional e-mail from me asking that you comment on an ADEQ permit for the land application of industrial waste.  I want to take this opportunity to provide some background.

Seventeen years ago, the Oklahoma State Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the NW Arkansas’ poultry industry, as chicken litter from local farms was beginning to impact the Illinois Scenic River, a beautiful stream that begins in Arkansas and flows into Oklahoma.  In response, the Arkansas Legislature designated the counties along the NW Arkansas border, a Nutrient Surplus Area, the intent being to reduce phosphorus levels and improve water quality.   

As a result, poultry farmers began exporting their chicken litter to the north and west to be applied to row-crops where the manure is actually beneficial.  In addition, the Arkansas Division of Agriculture has begun experimenting with anaerobic digesters as another means for managing litter.  Finally, NW Arkansas municipal waste treatment plants have adopted some of the most stringent (and most expensive) phosphorus reduction targets in the country.  These combined efforts have made a difference.  The water quality in the Illinois River has actually improved.  It has been a classic community effort.

Unfortunately, there has been a recent increase in permit applications that allow for millions of gallons of industrial waste to be applied on pastures in both the Illinois drainage as well as the Beaver Lake watershed, the drinking water supply for NW Arkansas.  Waste disposal contractors that service local industries, generally want to apply waste close by to minimize transportation costs.  Some of this waste is imported from out of state.  Sadly, this works directly against the phosphorus mitigation efforts of everyone mentioned above.   Surprisingly, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) does not have a Commission approved standard for evaluating such permits, and they are nearly always approved.  We have asked ADEQ to remedy this and to allow us to offer input when they do. 

The public notification for these waste disposal applications is a minuscule ad in the local classifieds, an information source that has become increasingly ineffective.  We’ve been working on expanding public awareness, and there has been a significant increase in public comments, many of these coming from you.  As a result, one permit has been withdrawn, another will be aired in a public hearing, and two more have been greatly slowed down.  Beaver Water District as well as the city governments of Fayetteville, Springdale, and Rogers are all taking a greater interest, which is no surprise considering the significant taxpayer dollars being spent on water quality. Fayetteville has even passed a resolution opposing all such permits until proper regulations are approved.  To those of you who have submitted public comments, congratulations!  You are making a difference.