A recent episode out of Southwest Missouri highlights weaknesses in our state and local laws. We hope legislators take note.
The state of Arkansas recently closed C&H Hog Farms, which had been operating for years on a tributary of the Buffalo National River — America’s first national river. We were among those who thought Arkansas regulators acted stupidly when they permitted the concentrated animal feeding operation nearly a decade ago and among those who praised the state for finally buying out the farm.
But what to do with 2.6 million gallons of liquid hog waste that had collected in lagoons during the farm’s operation?
Take it to Missouri. Fifteen, maybe 20 trucks a day rolled into Taney County for a number of days, local residents said.
Not only were Taney County officials unable to stop it, they weren’t even notified.
The state, too, is relegated to an after-the-fact role.
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources:
• If the waste is spread by a third party from a concentrated animal feeding operation, Missouri does not require permits for land application of fertilizer from agricultural practices, and these companies can bring it in from out of state.
• Missouri DNR does provide information regarding “best management practices” to companies applying the waste, but because the companies are not required to get permits, there is no review beforehand. The state can do site review afterward if it learns of issues, but by then, the damage may be done.
• There also is no prior notification to local/county officials.
In this instance, according to DNR, they did go down and check on the application process several times, and the third-party company applying the waste to the land did take soil and nutrient samples prior to the application, and the site was flagged in accordance with recommended set-back distances. There also were no water quality problems.
The fact that there were no apparent problems — this time — is cold comfort.
We think local and state officials need to be involved on the front side of this.
DNR needs the authority to review the plan before it happens, to do its own survey of the slopes and soil types, nearby residences and to examine the nutrient load already in the watershed. State and local officials also need the authority to tell companies no.
We also think nearby residents, neighbors and environmental organizations that play the watchdog role today should know about this kind of thing before it happens.
Taney County residents were worried about the smell and about the hog waste polluting local streams.
One resident warned: “That watershed goes right into Bee Creek and that goes on into Bull Shoals Lake. It’s too late now. They’ve finished hauling it in.”
That’s the problem. Neighbors, the county and the state only get brought in on the backside of this, the “too late now” side of this, and that doesn’t work for Missouri.
Besides, is there such a shortage of industrial agricultural waste in Missouri that we need to be importing it?
We don’t think so.