Cycling Wastewater

A map of all restroom locations at Buffalo National River
A map of Buffalo National River's restroom facilities.

NPS/D. Filipek

Let's face it--human waste (poop) is a natural part of life. Although it "disappears" with every flush, it doesn’t just evaporate into nothingness once it exits the toilet bowl. Fecal contamination is a water quality concern that influences public use in rivers, lakes, and other waterways. Buffalo National River has specific systems to mitigate human waste risks and to prevent visitors from contracting water-borne illnesses.

The average person produces just under 1 pound of poop per day. With approximately 1.5 million people visiting Buffalo National River each year, that’s a lot of human waste to manage! Unregulated human waste can directly leak into oceans, lakes, and rivers, so having a solid waste management plan is critical in minimizing human impact and keeping waterways healthy for both people and wildlife. Built-in restroom facilities are carefully placed in high-traffic areas like campgrounds, boat launches, and certain hiking trails. These restroom facilities vary in type, from flushable to waterless (vault) toilets.
The outside of a restroom facility at Buffalo Point Campground.
The exterior of a restroom facility at Buffalo Point Campground. The wooden building is painted dark brown and has benches and a bulletin board in front.


But what happens after the flush? At Buffalo Point Campground, human waste is treated at one of two wastewater treatment plants. Incoming wastewater first passes through a bar screen to remove objects like rags and sticks. It's eventually pumped into an aeration tank, where microbes--tiny living organisms--break down ammonia into nitrates (NO3) and nitrites (NO2). The microbes use up the oxygen in these compounds, and the leftover nitrogen gas is stored in their cell walls. When the microbes are reintroduced to oxygen, they release the stored nitrogen gas, which makes its way into the atmosphere. Once these nutrients are removed, the water is disinfected with chlorine and then dechlorinated. The treated water, using Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) standards, is then released back into the environment in accordance with permits issued by the State.
Not all restrooms connect to a wastewater treatment plant within the park. Some are connected to septic systems, like at Steel Creek, where waste is collected by a licensed septic tank hauler and disposed of outside of the Buffalo National River watershed. Tyler Bend Campground's restroom and shower facilities have a different way of disposing waste. Waste goes through a process similar to the one used at Buffalo Point but gets discharged through a series of sprayer heads to a designated field. All processes are ADEQ approved.

Visitors from all over the world come to Buffalo National River for solitude, recreation, inspiration, and more. Waste management plays a critical role in preserving these qualities of the visitor experience while promoting ecological health and human safety. Click here to learn about Buffalo National River's water quality monitoring program.
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3 minutes, 21 seconds

Leave No Trace Principle #3 is Dispose of Waste Properly. There are 4 ways to dispose of human waste at Buffalo National River. Lauren and Nathan explain what to do when you've gotta poo outside.

Buffalo National River

Last updated: July 25, 2021