This guest blog by Lin Wellford is a part of our series on America’s Most Endangered Rivers®. The Buffalo National River was included in this report in 2017 and 2019.
The news is still sinking in.
After six years, countless rallies, fundraisers, letter-writing campaigns, lawsuits and legal actions, visits to the capitol, miles of travel to hearings at agencies and the legislature, we finally got the news that the 6500-head hog confined feeding operation (CAFO) impacting the Buffalo National River would be closing.
People told us it would never happen.
They said once these kinds of facilities are permitted, you can never get rid of them.
But here in Arkansas, the public refused to back down.
People who love the Buffalo River united in opposition to subjugating a national river to the abuse of industrial interests. A global corporation convinced three contract growers to get into large-scale hog raising in a rural area that just happened to be less than seven miles upstream of a major tributary to the Buffalo National River.
Supporters of the CAFO, including the powerful voice of the Farm Bureau, claimed that the owner/operators had done nothing wrong, and that there was no proof that more than two million gallons of hog waste spread onto fields and other areas had anything to do with the rapid explosion of algal growth that was soon noticed by visitors. The CAFO, employing eight to ten locals, was soon threatening the livelihood of nearly one thousand neighbors whose businesses, restaurants and float services depended on the steady flow of visitors to a clean and beautiful Buffalo River. No one wants to paddle or swim in a waterway filled with green gook!
Through working to save the river, we all learned some important lessons.
After the Buffalo National River was first selected for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers® list in 2017, I looked at other waterways on the list and realized how many of them, like the Buffalo, are being damaged by the operations of industries who make money by cutting corners, by paying fines rather than correcting mistakes, or refusing to accept any responsibility. When industries pump their waste into rivers through pipes, it is easy to see where pollution is coming from. Now many industries create more elusive non-point source pollution, which is caused by runoff or infiltration into groundwater that then reaches waterways. Often citizens and non-profits are left to prove the industrial players are the ones causing damage.
But I learned something else, too.
Industries may have money to buy influence, but they can’t buy the votes or the passion of individuals who care about our waterways.
When people unite and speak out, when they begin contacting elected officials, writing letters to editors, and hosting meetings and getting loud about what’s happening, they can make things change. Maybe not all at once or as fast as they would like, but relentless passion and action is a force!
We who love the Buffalo River are grateful to American Rivers. They helped to amplify the plight of our river, and their supporters from across the country got involved by responding to action alerts. Each voice raised added to the volume until a tipping point was reached.
Don’t be afraid to speak to your representatives at your state’s legislature. Industries have lobbyists working fulltime to influence lawmakers. However, keep in mind that decent lawmakers will listen to constituents who take the time to reach out to them, to keep them informed, and to build relationships and credibility. We were told by many state representatives and senators that they appreciated that we made the effort to meet with them and tell them the other side of the story.
Most of all, don’t give up hope.
Supporters of the Buffalo National River thank everyone who helped us in any way. We are proof that David can take down Goliath.
Please continue to care for our shared water resources. They are worthy of our efforts, even if it will be our grandchildren who reap the benefits.
Lin Wellford has made her home in the Ozarks for more than 40 years. A retired author/artist, she now devotes her talents to environmental issues and community causes.