N.C. Takes Step to Remove “Swamp Waters” Classification from Lower Cape Fear River


North Carolina’s Environmental Management Commission today granted a petition from environmental groups to remove the “swamp waters” classification from 15 miles of the Lower Cape Fear flowing past Wilmington. The commission also directed the Division of Water Resources to develop a new management strategy for the Lower Cape Fear River.

Waterkeeper Alliance and Cape Fear River Watch, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, petitioned the Environmental Management Commission in January to remove the classification.

The Cape Fear, the state’s largest and most industrialized watershed, has the highest concentration of hogs on the planet. Those five million hogs produce roughly the same amount of waste as all the humans in the entire New York City metro area. The Cape Fear River basin also has the state’s highest concentration of industrial poultry operations.

Waste from industrial animal operations, when it enters a river, can reduce the dissolved oxygen and increases acidity, making it difficult for fish to live and shellfish to form healthy shells. This segment of the Cape Fear is a primary nursery area and provides critical habitat for endangered Atlantic sturgeon.

Under industry pressure, the state reclassified the Lower Cape Fear as “swamp waters” in 2015, over the objections of environmental groups, academic experts, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. EPA rejected North Carolina’s classification in July 2018, in part because the state failed to include data about the river’s velocity. The Lower Cape Fear is a fast-moving river, but under state law, swamp waters are defined largely by “very low velocities.”

EPA also found that the state failed to consider, as required by federal law, whether water quality in the river could be improved to support uses including healthy fisheries.

In the 2015 reclassification, the state also failed to subject the watershed’s industrial animal operations to meaningful scrutiny, relying on a model that assumed the operations have no impact on water quality, despite extensive evidence to the contrary.

“Logic and law beat industry pressure today,” said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper. “This decision should begin the process of imposing pollution limits on the industrial animal operations choking our river.”

“The state has a legal obligation to curb upstream pollution,” said Will Hendrick, senior attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance and manager of its North Carolina Pure Farms Pure Waters campaign. “Today’s decision sets the table for this essential work to begin.”

“The state now gets another chance to create a management plan that fully protects the Cape Fear River,” said Brooks Rainey Pearson, attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Following the groups’ petition for the classification change in January, they presented to the Environmental Management Commission’s Water Quality Committee on May 8.

**Photo by David Broad


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Community, Environmental Groups File Constitutional Challenge to Laws Limiting Individual Property Rights


sb711 environmental justice rene miller property rights

North Carolina environmental and community groups today filed a constitutional challenge to state laws limiting nuisance suits against industrial hog operations, contending these laws violate due process and property rights under the state Constitution.    

The suit, filed in Wake County, challenges House Bill 467 and Senate Bill 711, which passed over the governor’s vetoes in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The suit, which will be heard by a three-judge panel the Chief Justice of the state supreme court will appoint, contends the state deprived North Carolinians of their constitutional rights by limiting environmental nuisance remedies and claims.  

The organizations argue that the unreasonable restrictions on nuisance suits are unconstitutional “special” laws designed to protect a corporation, that they interfere with the right to trial by jury, and that they deprive residents of their fundamental right to property.  

Plaintiff organizations are the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Winyah Rivers Alliance, parent organization of the Lumber Riverkeeper and Waccamaw Riverkeeper. The plaintiffs are represented by the Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

North Carolina is the nation’s No. 2 pork producer after Iowa; it has the highest concentration of swine operations in the country. Most of the state’s nearly 10 million hogs live on industrial swine operations, where the 9.5 billion gallons of waste they produce each year are stored in open cesspools and applied, usually by jet-powered sprayers, on nearby cropland.

The EPA’s Civil Rights Compliance Office in 2017 warned the state’s Department of Environmental Quality of its “deep concern about the possibility that African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have been subjected to discrimination”  in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, as a result of how the state governed management of swine waste.

The organizations, filing suit on behalf of their members who live near industrial hog facilities, contend that, among other harms, the stench, noxious gases, and particulate pollution from these operations deprive residents of their right to use and enjoy their property. African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans in North Carolina are about twice as likely as whites to live within three miles of an industrial hog operation.

Devon Hall, REACH’s co-founder and program manager, lives near more than a dozen industrial hog operations. “This is my family’s homeplace,” Mr. Hall said. “Although I am not a plaintiff in the ongoing nuisance case, I believe that the North Carolina General Assembly overstepped its constitutional grounds to block me or anyone else from seeking justice in court from anyone that has caused unreasonable harm to a neighbor.”  Mr. Hall added, “How is it that the state can take away my community’s ability to protect our homes and health? How can that be right?”

Ayo Wilson, administrative co-director at NC Environmental Justice Network, said, “Legislation shouldn’t protect any industry over the people and the environment.  HB467 and SB711 expose the industry’s extraordinary influence on the General Assembly. This legislation is an unconstitutional assault on the fundamental rights of property owners to use and enjoy their property, totally strips low-wealth communities and residents of color of their property rights, and does nothing to promote or protect the health, safety, or well-being of communities or residents impacted by industrial agriculture. Folks here in North Carolina deserve better.”

Will Hendrick, staff attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance, said, “This suit challenges recent limits to legal rights that predated North Carolina’s statehood. The General Assembly passed those limits after neighbors of industrial hog operations in North Carolina won federal lawsuits based on those longstanding rights. Laws should be made to protect North Carolinians from proven harm, not strip them of their rights.”

Christine Ellis, executive director of Winyah Rivers Alliance, said, “Everyone has a constitutional right to their property — including the right to drink an iced tea on their porch without choking on sprayed droplets of hog manure. Neighbors held the hog industry accountable is a nuisance action. The state has taken that away with this legislation. That’s not just wrong, it also violates the North Carolina Constitution.”

“The North Carolina constitution prohibits the legislature from passing special laws to benefit one corporation and this case is the perfect illustration,” stated Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and co-counsel for plaintiffs in the suit.  “Our clients and many other North Carolina residents have been significantly harmed by the waste caused by Smithfield Foods and they have the constitutional right to be made whole by Smithfield Foods. The legislature cannot take that right away.”

“These changes to the law deprive North Carolinians living near industrial hog operations of the only remedy every other property owner has to protect the sanctity, value, and enjoyment of their homes,” said Elizabeth Haddix, Co-Director of the Chambers Center and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “This law is not about the ‘right to farm;’ it’s about giving industry an unconstitutional right to harm.”


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North Carolina Riverkeepers Respond to Swine Waste Management General Permit


North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality released the state’s Swine Waste Management General Permit today, which governs disposal of the nearly 9.5 billion gallons of hog waste generated each year at the state’s industrial swine operations.

Waterkeeper Alliance, Lumber Riverkeeper, Cape Fear Riverkeeper, and Lower Neuse Riverkeeper released the following statements:

“The additional transparency and monitoring in this permit are an important and long overdue step forward,” said Will Hendrick, staff attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance and manager of the North Carolina Pure Farms Pure Waters campaign. “However, the revised permit represents incremental change, but the system needs to be fundamentally changed. An expert commission determined more than 20 years ago that the lagoon and sprayfield system was outdated. The need for change has grown dramatically since, as we’ve learned more about how this waste management system threatens North Carolina communities and our environment, especially in light of increasingly frequent and severe storms..”

“The improvements in the General Permit governing swine waste highlight the state’s nearly complete lack of oversight over poultry waste,” said Jefferson Currie II, Lumber Riverkeeper. “North Carolina is now home, not only to roughly 9 million hogs, but also to crowded industrial poultry operations housing 515.3 million birds, which produce five million tons of waste annually. Yet the state is doing nothing to mitigate the cumulative environmental and health effects of all that waste. The state spent $12.6 million composting drowned birds after Hurricane Florence. To prevent further disasters, new operations in the 100-year floodplain should be banned, but in my watershed, the industry is clearing trees for another industrial poultry operation in the floodplain. We have a permit governing swine waste management, we’re in dire need of more oversight of our poultry industry as well.”

“While the General Permit includes some welcome steps forward, it is silent on the issue of biogas,” said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper. “The industry’s biogas plan increasingly looks like a way for it to perpetuate its outdated system of giant open cesspools and sprayfields. It seems to be planning to dig new cesspools and call them ‘in-ground anaerobic digesters.’ A hole full of pig feces and urine is still a hole full of pig feces and urine, no matter what you call it. The state needs to act to prevent the continuation of this same dangerous, polluting, system under a new name.”

“The General Permit is glaringly devoid of concerns for environmental justice,” said Katy Langley Hunt, Lower Neuse Riverkeeper. “The EPA expressed concern in 2017 that these operations have a disparate impact on communities of color. We know the communities most affected by this industry breathe air laden with toxic emissions from industrial hog operations, suffer with well water tainted by nitrates from the operations, and live shorter lives. North Carolina’s DEQ is able to deny permit renewals based on that disparate impact, yet it did not. Instead, it’s allowing a blatantly unfair and dangerous industry to manage waste in the exact same way, in the exact same places that it always has, unfairly and illegally extracting a disproportionate cost from communities of color.”  


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

New Investigation: Recent Explosion of Poultry Factory Farms in N.C. Piles Manure from 515.3M Chickens Onto Waste From 9.7M Hogs


As State Reviews Standards for Managing Hog Waste, It Must Take Little-Regulated Poultry Waste Into Account

North Carolina, a state known for the devastating environmental and public health impacts of industrial-scale hog production, now has more than twice as many poultry factory farms as swine operations, according to a new investigation from the Environmental Working Group and Waterkeeper Alliance.

The groups’ research found that in 2018, manure from 515.3 million chickens and turkeys joined the waste from 9.7 million hogs already fouling waters and threatening North Carolinians’ health. By scouring satellite data, examining U.S. Department of Agriculture imagery and conducting site visits, EWG and Waterkeeper experts identified more than 4,700 poultry and about 2,100 swine concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

The analysis comes as state regulators are debating the terms of the state permit regulating waste management from swine CAFOs.

“If you’re setting standards for pig waste, you can’t ignore the recent explosive growth of the poultry industry, which has largely flown under the radar,” said Soren Rundquist, EWG director of spatial analysis.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, is required to update its CAFO waste permits every five years and is currently gathering public and industry input on the swine permit. The agency must consider the cumulative impact of similar operations – hogs, poultry and cattle – on the environment.

DEQ’s top CAFO regulator recently admitted to lax enforcement in the agency’s oversight of swine operations. And in 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opened an investigation into whether the state’s management of swine facilities and their waste discriminates against African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans, as described in this letter from EPA to the DEQ. A settlement was reached last May.

Although the state implemented a moratorium on new swine operations in 1997, the poultry industry has tripled since then – from 147 million birds to 515.3 million today.

“Most of the poultry industry operates largely with impunity,” said Will Hendrick, staff attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “Unfortunately, there is a lot of geographic overlap of poultry and swine operations, particularly in the coastal plain. That means North Carolina’s rivers, already choking on millions of gallons of pig manure, are now forced to cope with tons of chicken waste, as well.”

In Duplin and Sampson counties – historically the epicenter of hog pollution – nearly 82 million chickens and turkeys are now packed in among four million pigs.

People who live near or work on swine CAFOs are more likely to suffer from potentially deadly diseases like asthma, bacterial infections and high blood pressure, according to a 2018 Duke University study. In four recent federal lawsuits, juries have found in favor of North Carolina neighbors of CAFOs, although the state legislature has made such lawsuits much more difficult to file.

Nutrient pollution from the nitrogen and phosphorus found in farm animal waste can cause issues like toxic algae blooms that kill fish and other marine life, choke out native plants and contaminate drinking water. Due to the rapid growth of the industry, poultry operations are now a much larger source of nutrient pollution in North Carolina than swine farms.

Many North Carolina CAFOs are located in areas prone to flooding, especially as climate-change-related weather leads to more frequent, more severe storms. Although the 1997 hog operation moratorium was precipitated by hurricanes hammering farms in North Carolina floodplains, at least 74 poultry farms have been built in floodplains, many along three rivers – the Lumber, Neuse and Cape Fear – that flooded during both Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018.

Poultry waste, which is mixed with carcasses and bedding to form a substance called dry litter, is stored in large piles before being applied to farm fields. It can easily be blown by wind or washed by rain into nearby rivers.

“There is ample evidence factory farm pollution simply doesn’t stay on farms,” Rundquist said. “As DEQ finalizes the swine waste standards, it must account for the enormous recent growth of the poultry industry. The health of North Carolinians and their environment depend on it.”

On Jan. 31, the North Carolina DEQ announced a 30-day public comment period on CAFO waste permits, as well as two public meetings. The first meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 19 at James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville. The second will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 26 at Statesville Civic Center in Statesville.

*Photo by Mercy for Animals


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

Waterkeeper Groups Petition N.C. to Remove “Swamp Waters” Classification from Lower Cape Fear River


Waterkeeper Alliance and Cape Fear River Watch, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, petitioned today to remove North Carolina’s “swamp waters” classification from 15 miles of the Lower Cape Fear River flowing past Wilmington. The change would begin a process to reduce upstream pollution in the state’s largest and most industrialized watershed, pollution that includes an annual swine waste load equivalent to the human waste produced by the entire New York City metro area.

Over the objections of environmental groups, academic experts, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state reclassified the lower Cape Fear as “swamp waters” in 2015. EPA rejected North Carolina’s classification in July 2018, in part because the state failed to include data about the river’s velocity. While the lower Cape Fear is a fast-moving river, under state law, swamp waters are defined largely by their “very low velocities.” EPA also found that the state failed to consider, as required by federal law, whether water quality in the river could be improved.

When designating the lower Cape Fear as “swamp waters” in 2015, the state also failed to subject the watershed’s industrial animal operations to meaningful scrutiny. The agency relied on a model assuming these operations have no impact on water quality, despite evidence to the contrary.

Waste from industrial animal operations, when it enters a river, can reduce the dissolved oxygen and increase acidity, making it difficult for fish and other aquatic life to survive. This segment of the Cape Fear is a primary nursery area and provides critical habitat for endangered Atlantic sturgeon.

“The 5 million hogs and 21 million turkeys in the Cape Fear basin have polluted the water so badly, our river is at risk of choking to death,” said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper. “Reclassifying it as a swamp isn’t the answer; imposing pollution limits, as required by law, is ”

“This stretch of river has been impaired for twenty years,” said Will Hendrick, staff attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance and manager of its North Carolina Pure Farms Pure Waters campaign. “Under the Clean Water Act, the state has a legal obligation – an obligation it can’t dodge – to curb pollution.”

“The swampwater classification is not enforceable under federal law, as the EPA rightfully disapproved the change,” said Brooks Rainey Pearson, attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “It is past time for the state to remove this erroneous classification from the books. The lower Cape Fear is simply not a swamp.”

As allowed under state law, the groups petitioned the director of the state’s Environmental Management Commission for the change. The next step is for the groups to present the petition at the March 13 meeting of the Environmental Management Commission.

**Photo by David Broad


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

We have technology to manage hog waste better. We need to use it


North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s Hurricane Florence Recovery Recommendations included $75 million to either buy out industrial animal operations in the 500-year floodplain or help them, in the words of the report, “convert to better technology.”

The pork industry has been adamant that no such technology exists. But it does.

Even after 36 open cesspools of swine waste flooded during Hurricane Florence, the industry stuck to its line that keeping hog feces and urine in open cesspools — even when those cesspools sit in a floodplain — then spraying the unprocessed waste on adjacent cropland — even if droplets of manure and urine blow through neighbors’ windows — was the best it can do.

In the aftermath of Florence, Kraig Westerbeek, Smithfield Food’s director of renewables, told The New Yorker that none of the technology investigated under a $17.1 million agreement in 2000 between the industry and the state “met the criteria for operational and economic feasibility.”

But that process, nearly ten years ago, did identify technology that met all the environmental criteria for new farms. It determined, however, that retrofits to existing farms were too expensive.  

A report this week from Pro Publica says that the agreement itself was too flawed to create meaningful change.

The agreement, “sought transformative change, but lacked teeth,” Pro Publica reported. “The all-or-nothing strategy meant that unless a perfect system was developed, nothing would change. The deal required the ‘substantial’ elimination of odors, ammonia emissions, bacteria, soil and groundwater contamination, and waste discharges, yet it did not state what that threshold was or what costs the industry was obliged to absorb.”

The costs to neighbors from odors, pests and other nuisances were not factored into the economic analysis, a fact panel member Richard Whisnant lamented at the time.

“In the end, the agreement let legislators avoid the messy work of defining restrictions for a politically influential industry, and instead it shifted that responsibility to academics,” Pro Publica reported. “When no silver bullet emerged from the early research, the push for change waned as the country faced a staggering recession and North Carolina’s politics shifted rightward.”

Rather than solve the problem, the agreement gave Smithfield political cover to insist to the North Carolina legislature that its “lagoon and sprayfield” system, where waste from cesspools is sprayed on nearby crops, was the best practice.

“There is not a technology in North Carolina that performs better than a lagoon and sprayfield,” Gregg Schmidt, Smithfield’s president of hog operations testified in June during a nuisance trial, which Smithfield lost.

Smithfield appears to have had a change of heart, deciding that there is better technology. It announced this week that it would cover hog cesspools and add anaerobic waste digesters, entering the biogas market in a $250 million joint venture with Dominion Energy.

But covers alone don’t qualify as environmentally superior technology under the 2000 agreement,  because they do not solve the groundwater, surface water and air quality problems created by lagoons and sprayfields. While we believe addressing climate change is important, so is addressing long-standing problems affecting North Carolinians every day.

The good news is that there is technology that can help process waste in ways that safeguard the environment. And it’s being used around the country, including in North Carolina.

The argument the industry uses against environmentally superior waste management technology is cost. It’s a flawed argument. First, the cost of environmentally superior technology declines as it comes into wider use.

Like all technology, waste technology gets cheaper with each new iteration. Early components are often expensive, since they have to be specially built, or adapted from other uses. For instance, one pilot project used a medical-grade membrane to capture ammonia, because that was all that was available. If the technology were adapted for wider use, there would be a market for similar, cheaper, materials that don’t meet expensive medical standards.

In another case, a pump component from the wastewater treatment industry clogged with hog bristles when used at an animal operation. That’s the kind of expensive mistake engineers working on new technology only make once.

This cost decline was illustrated during technology trials under the Smithfield agreement. The first generation of Terra Blue technology, for instance, cost $400 per 1,000-pound state live weight of hogs; the third-generation cost just $158.62, as of 2013.

“The research has moved the needle to getting the cost down to where it can be affordable,” C. Mike Williams, who oversaw the research done under the Smithfield agreement, said in a 2016 presentation at Duke University.

Another flaw with the price argument: It takes into account only the out-of-pocket costs of waste management to the grower. In 2004 those were $87 per 1,000 pounds of steady-stream live weight hogs. 

The real costs — to the air and water in the surrounding area, and the health of the neighbors — were much higher.

A recent study published in North Carolina Medical Journal found that residents living near North Carolina’s industrial animal operations had higher rates of all-cause mortality, infant mortality, mortality from anemia, kidney disease, tuberculosis, and septicemia, and higher rates of emergency room visits than the residents in the control group.

The current system “has served its purpose,” Williams told Pro Publica, “and we need to move to a new technology.”

“There has to be a better system,” Williams said. “There has to be.”

What follows is a list of some of the waste technology available, all of which has been tested in North Carolina, most under the 2000 agreement.The list isn’t exhaustive, nor is it an endorsement of any specific technology. Rather, it’s meant to illustrate that technology exists, for use in North Carolina and around the country, that can manage animal waste in ways that don’t foul our water and air.

Terra Blue, Inc.
Farms: Farrow-to-finish with 12,960-head and farrow-to-feeder with 1,200 sows in Wayne County, North Carolina.
Cost: $158.62 per 1,000 pound steady state live weight hogs
Process: The systems replace open cesspools with tanks. Using polymers and a flocculant, which promotes the clumping of particles, it separates liquid waste and solid waste. It then removes ammonia nitrogen using bacteria adapted to high-strength wastewater and removes phosphorus through alkali precipitation.  

 

Sequencing Batch Reactor
Farm: 4,320 head feeder-to-finish operation in Wilson, NC
Cost: $221.43 per 1,000 pound steady state live weight hogs
Process: Sequencing batch reactors have been used to treat municipal wastewater since 1914. In this system, wastewater from hog operations was added to a single “batch” reactor, which treated 40,380 gallons of wastewater a day using intermittent aeration to cycle between processes that include oxygen and processes that have no oxygen. About 9,500 gallons of sludge were removed from the reactor daily and added to existing lagoons.

Ambient Temperature Anaerobic Digester and Greenhouse
Farm: 4,000-head farrow-to-wean operation in Zebulon, North Carolina
Cost: $89 per 1,000 pound steady state live weight hogs
Process: The ambient digester has an impermeable cover over an in-ground digester;  methane gas produced during the digestive process is extracted and delivered to a generator, where electricity is produced for use on the farm. Unlike technologies that merely cover the lagoon to generate energy and continue spraying most of the waste onto fields, this system included a nitrification-denitrification system to address nutrient pollution; the majority of the wastewater is routed to greenhouses for vegetable production.

Covered Anaerobic Digester + Microturbine
Farm: Loyd Ray Farms, 8,600 feeder to finish swine operation in Yadkinville, North Carolina
Cost: $210 per 1,000 pound steady state live hogs
Process: Hog waste is flushed into an in-ground lined and covered anaerobic digester that produces and captures biogas, which powers a 65-kilowatt microturbine; any excess is diverted to the system’s flare. A nitrification-denitrification basin helps to address nutrient pollution.

While Smithfield has long insisted that it can’t bring in environmentally superior technology to its operations, it has invested in technological improvements in response to legal action in states other than North Carolina. “Successful Farming” headlined an article about Missouri’s Premium Standard Farms “How Smithfield Saved the Worst Hog Farm in America.”

Crystal Peak Fertilizer
Farm: Premium Standard Farms; 11 Missouri swine operations with a total of 70,000 hogs
Background: A 1999 consent judgment with the state of Missouri required the farm to set up a $25 million capital improvement fund and move from the cesspool and sprayer system to next-generation technology.
Process: Internal recirculation units use screens to separate solid waste. Separated liquids are acidified with sulfuric acid to minimize odor and ammonia, and are used for flushing fresh manure out of the barn. Concentrated solids are transferred to a digester. Solids go into a centrifuge, where liquids and solids are further separated. The solid waste is dried to be used as fertilizer. Wastewater is treated for use in irrigation or for animal feed.

 


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

New Map Details Extreme Rainfall and Risk of Flooding on Thousands of North Carolina’s Hog and Poultry Facilities


florence map

Analysis of Operations in and nearby Floodplains Reveals the Potential Inundations of Thousands of Waste Cesspools Holding Hundreds of Millions of Gallons of Manure and Urine

Hurricane Florence’s torrential rains pelted parts of North Carolina that are home to more than 1,500 industrial animal operations with over 1,000 nearby waste storage cesspools. These operations have the potential to annually produce as much as 4 billion gallons of wet swine waste and 400 thousand tons of dry poultry litter, an exclusive analysis by EWG and Waterkeeper Alliance reveals.

The organizations overlaid locations of concentrated animal feeding operations with government rainfall estimates to produce an interactive map that details Florence’s potential impact on vulnerable operations in the state. Clicking and zooming in on a location shows the estimated amount of rain each operation received from Sept. 14, when Florence made landfall, through Sept. 16, and the potential amount of waste produced or stored at each site.

The groups calculated the potential waste stored at each site by using North Carolina permit data, the USDA Agricultural Census, and manure production rate data from the North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual. A link to the methodology is here.

Among our findings:

  • There are 926 concentrated hog feeding operations housing over 3.8 million pigs and 578 industrial poultry operations holding an estimated 35 million poultry in areas where the National Weather Service said flooding was “occurring or imminent” after Florence. Livestock at those 1,504 concentrated animal feeding operations are capable of producing 4 billion of gallons of wet waste and over 400,000 tons of dry litter each year. More than a third of those sites received an estimated 15 to 19 inches of rain, and more than one-fourth saw more than 20 inches.
  • There are 123 hog industrial hog operations and 40 industrial poultry operations in or within 500 feet of the 100-year floodplain that received at least 15 inches of rain. Livestock at those 163 sites are capable of producing more than 395 million gallons of liquid waste and more than 27,000 tons of dry waste a year.
  • Federal standards require waste pits in North Carolina to be designed to withstand a so-called 24-hour/25-year rain event without releasing manure. In areas where the National Weather Service said flooding was occurring or imminent, more than 1,000 waste pits received more rain than the 24-hour/25-year rain event defined for that location. Of those, an estimated 35 pits are in the 100-year floodplain and received over 15 inches of rain. Those pits alone are capable of holding more than 129 million gallons of animal waste.
  • The map below shows colored bands of estimated rainfall amounts in North Carolina’s coastal plain from Sept. 14-16. The dark diagonal lines show the zones of rainfall expected during a 24-hour/25-year rain event. In all of the zones except for the one with the lowest expected rainfall (in blue), the total estimated rainfall was well in excess of what the waste pits were designed to withstand.

Source: EWG, from National Weather Service data

“It’s just a matter of time until another massive rain event happens again in the floodplain,” said Soren Rundquist, Director of Spatial Analysis at EWG. “How many scenes of swamped animal barns and breached manure pits do state leaders and the factory farm industry need to see before they realize producing and storing billions of pounds of animal waste in flood-prone areas was and is a bad decision?”

“Waste mismanagement at industrial animal agriculture operations threatens public health and environmental quality under sunny skies,” said Will Hendrick, staff attorney and manager of the Pure Farms, Pure Waters campaign at Waterkeeper Alliance. “That threat is disproportionately borne by communities of color or low wealth and it is exacerbated, given the concentration of production in the coastal plain, by increasingly frequent and severe storms like Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.”

EWG and Waterkeeper Alliance will continue our analysis of Hurricane Florence’s impact on CAFOs in North Carolina’s coastal plain.


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

Waterkeepers Identify Multiple CAFO and Coal Ash Spills Following Hurricane Florence


Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeeper groups across North Carolina have identified multiple releases of pollution from industrial animal operations and coal-fired power plants as a result of flooding from Hurricane Florence.

Staff from Waterkeeper Alliance, Sound Rivers, Haw Riverkeeper, and French Broad Riverkeeper discovered multiple releases of coal ash from inundated ponds at Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee coal-fired power plant near Goldsboro, NC. Water samples from today’s investigation are expected to be analyzed within the week.

“Today we investigated, documented and collected water samples from multiple ongoing, active coal ash spills from HF Lee facility where 1 million tons of coal ash is now completely underwater. Half-mile Branch creek and the Neuse River flood waters are actively eroding the dam between the ponds and all three ponds are washing coal ash into the Neuse River,”  said Donna Lisenby, Global Advocacy Manager for Waterkeeper Alliance. “Coal ash will continue spilling every minute of every day from the HF Lee coal ash ponds until flood waters recede sometime later this week.”

Waterkeeper Alliance and Upper Neuse Riverkeeper discovered a similar coal ash release at the plant following flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Conditions at Lee are worse than they were in 2016.

“Yet again, the Neuse River is experiencing an ongoing coal ash spill. This not just an environmental concern, it is a concern for downstream communities as well, including Goldsboro which has a water intake less than 10 miles downstream,” said Matt Starr, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper. “Like during Hurricane Matthew, Duke Energy has made inaccurate statements.  The tree cover is not preventing coal ash from being eroded and spilled into the Neuse River. Duke should have learned from Hurricane Matthew that the contents of these coal ash ponds need to be excavated and removed from the banks of the Neuse River, in order to protect our river and communities.”

Additionally, Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette discovered two breached hog lagoons, with their contents completely emptied, and dozens of inundated lagoons across the Cape Fear River Basin.

According to Burdette, “These cesspools of hog waste failed completely, spilling millions of gallons of untreated hog waste into floodwaters. Even worse, these contaminated waters will flow through communities downstream, threatening homes, churches, schools, and anything else in their path.”

Our partners at Environmental Working Group estimated, based on geospatial analysis, that two lagoons contained more than 7.3 million gallons of untreated swine waste. The larger cesspool stored more waste than was discharged by the spill of partially treated wastewater from the Southside Wastewater Treatment plant near Wilmington in the wake of Hurricane Florence. And, North Carolinians have seen significantly larger volumes of swine waste from a single lagoon breach, including the notorious discharge of more than 25 million gallons from a breached lagoon at Oceanview Farms in 1995.

Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeeper groups in the Carolinas are documenting the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Video and images are updated daily and are available here for download.

The Waterkeeper Alliance Rapid Response initiative provides trusted and independent information following disasters on our waterways. In a climate of lax federal regulations and budget cuts to state departments of environmental conservation, the need for Waterkeeper Organizations and Waterkeeper Affiliates to speak truth about the devastating impacts of water emergencies on communities has never been greater. Waterkeeper groups will remain involved as long as necessary in order to assure that proper clean-up, mitigation, and enforcement is completed.


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

Mapping Hurricane Florence


Florence CAFO Flooding

With rivers still rising in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins created this story map to give the public a sense of environmental hazards that might be vulnerable to flooding.

The map includes locations of river flood gauges, coal-fired power plants, coal ash sites, rivers, the watersheds of local Waterkeeper groups, and concentrated animal feeding operations by type (swine, poultry, cattle, turkey, dairy). We hope the map, which we intend to update with photos and notes from the field, will be a useful resource for the public in the aftermath of the hurricane.

The hurricane has served as a reminder that Waterkeeper Organizations are the voice of their waterways, in good times and bad. More than 200 articles about Hurricane Florence relied on data, background or expert assessment from Waterkeeper Alliance or Waterkeeper Organizations. This map is part of the ongoing work by Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeeper groups to be the eyes and ears of the public in the wake of this disastrous storm.


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org

Waterkeeper Alliance offering patrol opportunities in Florence impacted areas


florence

Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeeper groups in the Carolinas are preparing to document the potentially devastating aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Waterkeepers will be monitoring conditions at coal ash pits, factory swine and poultry operations, and other pollution threats to the states’ waterways. Video and images will be available here.

Hardest hit will likely be the Neuse, Cape Fear, Lumber, and Pee Dee river basins. The Neuse and Cape Fear have the highest concentration of massive industrial swine sites. Both coal-fired plants and industrial animal agriculture operations store waste in unprotected open-air pits and cesspools, some of which are larger than football fields.

“We have been working in North Carolina for two decades to push the state and industry to handle waste more responsibly,” said Will Hendrick, Waterkeeper Alliance staff attorney and manager of the Pure Farms, Pure Waters campaign. “These industries’ irresponsible waste management practices are a threat to the environment even under blue skies. Because they dragged their feet on solutions, that threat is now exacerbated.”

As soon as it is safe to fly, Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeeper Organizations will be overflying power plants and industrial agriculture operations to document any flooding. Ground patrols will also commence as soon as they can be safely conducted.

North Carolina environmental agencies permitted swine lagoons and coal ash ponds to be sited in the floodplains of the state’s rivers. The result is that when storms with high rainfall occur, these industrial waste sites flood and rivers become devastatingly polluted with coal ash and waste from industrial animal production facilities.

“During Hurricane Matthew, coal ash ponds at the H.F. Lee Power Plant flooded, spilling toxic coal ash into the river. Since then, not a single shovel of coal ash has been removed from those pits,” said Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr. “Flooding from Hurricane Matthew also spilled waste from feces and urine from massive swine cesspools into our water. As with the coal ash, no action has been taken to remove that threat.”

In 1999, flooding from Hurricane Floyd dumped massive amounts of raw animal waste from industrial meat production facilities into the Neuse River.

As climate change causes more and more of these devastating weather events, we simply cannot afford these continued assaults upon our waterways and communities.

Click here to read about our North Carolina “Fields of Filth” report and connect to a map of all the industrial poultry and swine farms in North Carolina.

As the storm moves inland, Waterkeeper groups in South Carolina will be monitoring threats in that state. Fortunately, unlike Duke Energy, the utilities in that state have removed much of the coal ash from riverside impoundments and there are far fewer, and less concentrated, industrial animal agriculture operations. However, structural failure of dam infrastructure is a major concern in South Carolina.

Throughout the storm, Waterkeeper groups in the Carolinas will continue to monitor threats to water quality in addition to the aforementioned high priority targets.

The Waterkeeper Alliance Rapid Response initiative provides trusted and independent information following disasters on our waterways. In a climate of lax federal regulations and budget cuts to state departments of environmental conservation, the need for Waterkeeper Organizations and Waterkeeper Affiliates to speak truth about the devastating impacts of water emergencies on communities has never been greater. Waterkeeper groups will remain involved as long as necessary in order to assure that proper clean-up, mitigation, and enforcement is completed.

**Photo by NOAA/STAR


About Waterkeeper

United as one powerful force, Waterkeeper Alliance fights for every community's right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. For more information please visit waterkeeper.org