More on the Arkansas Phosphorus Index…
“The API is overseen by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, a state agency that deals with non-point source issues.
“The index was developed by university researchers, USDA-ARS employees, and NRCS employees. I believe it went into effect in 2005.
“In 2006, an independent study was conducted by a researcher at North Carolina State University. In her evaluation, she compared 13 or 15 Southern state phosphorus indexes. Arkansas’ came out either first or second restrictive, depending on the scenario.
“After that study, Arkansas voluntarily went back in and revised the index beginning in 2007. That took a couple of years and was very thorough. It included the incorporation of new science and, depending on what county you live in, the index was made an additional 25 to 30 percent more restrictive than the initial draft.
“Based on conversations I’ve had with some of the university researchers that served on that panel, our index is now one of the most restrictive in the country, if not the most restrictive.”
What about how Farm Bureau approaches situations like this? Is it more as a property rights issue first?
“Initially, we approached it because the farmer applied for a federally-approved, EPA-approved permit under ADEQ. He did everything that was asked of him.
“When a farmer jumps through all the hoops the environmental community has put in front of him, including the notice requirements, what more can be asked of him? That’s why we first jumped into the fray.
“This is a farming family that has lived in the area for 200 years, at least. Most of the opposition to the operation is coming from northwest Arkansas, 100 miles away.
“No one wants to harm the Buffalo River and the water quality. But many people in northwest Arkansas view the Buffalo as their playground even though 60 percent of the land in the watershed is owned by private individuals. Those folks are just trying to find a way to make a living and stay on the ground where their families have lived for generations.
“The farmer wants to farm there, wants to live there, wants to raise his kids there. The family actually moved away a few years ago. But they moved back because they wanted to be ‘at home.’”
In terms of state laws, is there something Farm Bureau is looking to tackle as a result of this? Or are the current laws solid as long as they’re properly applied?
“When this first broke out, I think the environmental community believed they weren’t properly notified. That’s in spite of the fact that ADEQ filed all the notice requirements for a CAFO permit. But they felt like someone slipped it by them.
“They tried to get a two-year moratorium passed during (the 2013 Arkansas) legislative session on any new CAFO in any ‘extraordinary resource’ water. That designation falls within the state water quality standards and describes high-value waters in the state. The Buffalo River is one of those.
“‘Extraordinary resource’ watersheds include a large portion of the state – maybe 40 or 50 percent.
“So, for them to seek out a moratorium for an activity that hadn’t been proven to cause any problems before the farm was even built – and would have impacted 40 to 50 percent of the state – (Farm Bureau) wouldn’t agree with. The end result was we worked with legislators and agreed to a 12-month period to require additional notice requirements for any new CAFO in the state. Rather than just a notice, or two, in the statewide newspaper, notices will also be placed in local and county newspapers.
“The legislation also created a five-member panel to evaluate the public notice process for CAFO. That panel will look at notice requirements and during that 12-month period will make a recommendation back to legislative counsel as to whether ADEQ should change the notice requirements.”