by: Nicole L. Triplett
Each watershed faces its own unique issues when it comes to pollution. Some areas face stormwater runoff that carries chemicals and other forms of pollution from roadways and parking lots. Other areas may face high levels of bacteria due to untreated sewage. But for Onslow County one of the issues the New River and its tributaries face is agricultural runoff from large swine farms called concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs.
That’s a lot of animals, right?!
Southeastern North Carolina houses the second largest concentration of hog CAFO facilities in the nation, only second to the entire state of Utah (Source: United States Department of Agriculture). Here is just one example of the sheer volume of CAFOs in Duplin County, North Carolina.
As you can see from this aerial photograph of an area in Duplin County, North Carolina there are five separate CAFO facilities located very near one another.
Many of the CAFOs are installed on or near floodplains as well, increasing the risk of agricultural contamination making its way into nearby creeks.
(Sources: EWG, WKA, and NCDEQ)
But let’s take a closer look at Onslow County alone. Thanks to mapping using Waterkeeper Alliance (WKA), Environmental Working Group (EWG), and NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) data we can now quantify the amount of CAFOs and waste produced in the New River watershed area.
*Note: You can also check these out for yourself at:
Number of Feeding Operations in the New River Watershed? 61.
Animal and Waste Estimates:
Dry Waste output (for example: poultry litter) 23,449 tons per year
Wet Waste Output (for example: liquid swine waste) 118,531,568 gallons per year
Number of Hog Waste lagoons? 50…
So, what is a “hog waste lagoon”?
Hog CAFOs in NC use an unlined open air pit to store hog feces that is later sprayed onto a nearby designated spray field using a giant aerial sprayer or lower lying sprinklers. Each hog waste lagoon contains tens of millions of gallons of raw liquid hog waste in an unlined pit in the ground that is then sprayed onto a spray field. Doesn’t sound very technologically advanced or environmentally sustainable given the amount of hog waste lagoons in one watershed, now does it?
But none of this is just hearsay either. We have research at the Federal and State levels that gives us the information we need to conclude that hog waste lagoons are polluting our State's waterways. For instance, take the United State Geological Survey’s (USGS) report titled 'Surface-Water Quality in Agricultural Watersheds of the North Carolina Coastal Plain Associated with Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations' that was published in 2015. In conclusion, “The study found significant water quality impacts in watersheds containing CAFOs when compared with those that contained no CAFOs”.
Disproportionate Impacts to Communities of Color:
The environmental damages have been assessed when it comes to CAFOs. What other challenges are there to overcome? Environmental racism. North Carolina has historically located environmental pollution in areas where communities have had little leverage or money to protect their heritage. Unfortunately, these communities are largely communities of color.
Research completed by the University of North Carolina’s late Professor Steve Wing and scholar Jill Johnston concluded:
“Industrial Hog Operations in North Carolina Disproportionately Impact African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians.”
By overlapping maps of North Carolina’s enslaved population from 1860 and industrial hog operations re-permitted in 2014 Dr. Steve Wing and Jill Johnston were able to show the concentration of CAFOs following a pattern that disproportionately affects the descended families of enslaved peoples in North Carolina.
(Sources: Wing and Johnston, 2014)
Here is what you can do…
Get to know your local farmers. Buy meat from them. CAFOs have all but choked out small family farms.
Meatless Monday. Cut back on meat consumption by choosing one day of the week that you and your family refrain from eating meat.
Choose a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Vote. Research your choices and choose representatives who are supportive of more environmentally sound legislature.
Sign petitions to hold corporate agriculture responsible for the resulting environmental pollution and financial hardships shrugged off onto contracted farmers. After all, these contracted farmers are getting pooped on too. Pun intended, of course.
Keep on educating yourself and your community. Slowly, but surely, we can make a difference.
Hog Waste Lagoons in North Carolina Prove to be an Inefficient
Waste Management System as Demonstrated through Multiple Focus Studies
A Master Thesis
By Nicole L. Triplett
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