Year Two of RIVER RANT presents the same challenges and similar hopes that we began with a year ago.
From that initial post in July 2018: “Ozarks waters are at grave risk from multiple protagonists.” They still are.
But barely a month ago, the Governor of Arkansas signed an agreement to shut down the ill-conceived Buffalo River CAFO and add permanence to protections against a travesty like this ever happening again in the watershed of America’s first national river. It will take time for the Buffalo to escape the list of America’s Top Ten Endangered Rivers, but the curative and redemptive powers of nature will prevail if we will just give them a chance. There is great hope in this.
Many thanks to those who stood and fought this battle on the front lines, as their predecessors did in the 1960’s, to save the Buffalo River, again!
Things are not so rosy north of that state border. The Missouri Legislature’s move to eliminate any local health and zoning ordinances which control and regulate CAFOs, cited with disdain in my last post, speaks to a broader embrace of corporate agriculture’s aggressive incursion into a state that has put out a big “Welcome” sign.
Tom Aley, one of the region’s most respected hydrologists and geologists, calls it like it is: “Strengthening Missouri’s reputation as one of the most pollution tolerant states in the nation.”
How has it happened? Sadly, I witnessed the transition in focus from clean water to Big Ag during my ten years on the Missouri Clean Water Commission.
From approval of foreign ownership of Missouri farmland in 2013 so a Chinese conglomerate could acquire Smithfield Foods, to passage of the “Right to Farm” constitutional amendment in 2014, lobbyists and legislators have consistently weakened or eliminated prior regulations on CAFOs. Construction permit requirements have been gutted. Proof of “continuing authority,” essentially confirming the financial viability of whatever corporate entity or LLC is seeking a permit from the Missouri Clean Water Commission, has been eliminated. And perhaps most damning, the Missouri Clean Water Commission has been stacked with corporate ag folks. The long time prior requirement for a majority of independent, or non-aligned, commission members was trashed by the state legislature several years back. I, and several others who expressed concern over CAFO incursions into small communities with fragile water supplies and lacking the financial or political clout to protect themselves, were victims of that purge.
And now Senate Bill 391 seeks to remove all local protections, including those established by county ordinance long ago. Some twenty counties passed health ordinances, and another dozen or so established restrictive zoning protections.
At last writing it appeared that these previously incorporated local controls would be eliminated on August 28, 2019, the date of SB391 implementation.
But this is where the hope comes in. The Missouri Rural Crisis Center has received a legal opinion that the bill is not written in a manner to make it retroactive, thus sparing for now existing ordinances. Equally as important, MRCC is also taking the lead in trying to organize grass roots efforts for other counties to pass protective measures by August 28, which should survive the recent power grab by the state.
It is exciting to report that MRCC has recently led citizen organizing efforts in Branson for Taney County, and Nixa for Christian County, neither of whom have registered CAFO’s but whose clean water based economies are at great risk without protection.
I was thrilled to return to my roots in hometown Branson and participate with Tom Aley, Jessie Green (White River Waterkeeper), and Tim Gibbons of MRCC in a public meeting last week, and witness the energy and passion of local leaders like Larry and Pat Campbell, as they lobbied Taney County Commissioners to pass a local health ordinance with restrictions on CAFOs within thirty days. There is great hope in this.
Stay tuned. We’ll know more by the time of my next post.
Coming next, September 1, 2019 – DID IT WORK?
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