Pure Farms, Pure Waters Update


Project Assesses CAFO and Fisheries Connection

Coastal Carolina Riverwatch completed a new branch of our Pure Farms Pure Waters (PFPW) campaign. Through funding from Waterkeeper Alliance, this project is in conjunction with our Water Quality for Fisheries (WQ4F) program and has assessed the impacts that CAFO pollution may have on waters used for fisheries in the New River. The project assesses bacteria levels throughout the New River, uses DNA to track the sources of this bacteria pollution, educates and engages impacted communities, and reports observed Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) violations to the state.  

Read the Final Project Report Here  

Click below for the GIS StoryMap version


In 2021, the CCRW WQ4F project was developed through collaboration with the coastal commercial and recreational fishing community, water quality researchers, and coastal water quality advocacy organizations as a result of an outcry of concern for water quality impacts that are having a direct impact on marine fisheries and marine ecosystems. Industrial Agriculture and Factory Farming (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – CAFOs) are the number one water quality impact to fisheries according to those who fish on the NC coast. 

2023 – 2024 Project

Our goal for this PFPW-WQ4F expansion was to assess the extent of hog waste pollution in impaired waters and waters being used for fishing (recreational, commercial, and subsistence fishing). The New River is downstream of several hog and poultry CAFOs and is an important marine estuary. There are multiple areas downriver of these CAFOs that have experienced Harmful Algae Blooms, and downstream of this area has been experiencing mass mortality in both commercial and wild harvest shellfish (oysters). Project components include collaborative new research and community engagement initiatives. 

Photo: DROHAN, R. A sampling site for this PFPW project that is located adjacent to a field spraying CAFO waste.


Photo: Lewis, R. Volunteers and staff helping with sample collection and lab analysis. From left to right: Tami Bennett, Suzanne Wheatcraft, Katie Tomberlin and Riley Lewis.

CCRW is collaborating with experienced and knowledgeable partners to gather the most representative and accurate data that we can. Streams of the New River will be analyzed for bacteria levels to determine the levels of contamination at different points in the river. Accompanying this quantitative bacteria assessment is bacterial DNA analysis to determine the source of the bacteria. The bacteria and DNA portion of this research was conducted by the University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Sciences and aimed to identify if the bacteria in waterways were coming from hogs, poultry, humans, or other sources. 

Our primary partner is Rachel Noble, PhD., Director of the University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Sciences. She has an extensive list of research and awards and her research program bridges environmental microbiology and public health. In 2023 CCRW worked with one of her students, Dan Crownover, to assist with lab analysis and analysis.

In addition to water quality data, CCRW contracted with the East Carolina University Center for Survey Research to survey residents of Onslow County that live near CAFOs. The survey asked about the participant’s interactions with CAFOs, issues they have, awareness of CAFOs, and fishing practices. The results help CCRW understand the impacts of CAFOs beyond water quality and get direct feedback from community members. You can read the survey results here

Peter L. Francia, Ph.D. is the Director of the ECU Center for Survey Research in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences. He is also the author of numerous books and articles on various topics related to American elections and public opinion. Dr. Francia’s insights on American politics have been included in the press accounts of national media outlets. 

To round out the research component of this PFPW project, our White Oak Waterkeeper, Riley, continued routine flights over Onslow County to track new CAFO development and document any possible permit violations. This is possible through CCRW’s partnership with SouthWings, which connects conservation partners with a network of volunteer pilots to advocate for the restoration and protection of the ecosystems of the Southeast through flight. The flights also watched for HABs and other water quality issues that are visible from the sky. Aerial observations allow Riley to quickly respond to water quality emergencies and keep the state informed.

CCRW’s partnership with Duke Marine Lab, through the lab space sponsored by the Duke Wetland Center and Duke student volunteers, also offers unique collaborative opportunities to share resources, improve efficiencies, and leverage funding to support this project and additional work to protect water quality here in coastal NC. 



Photo: LEWIS, R. An Onslow County community located next to a CAFO lagoon and sprayfield with a wooded stream separating the two.

As we conduct our research, we want to make sure the coastal community is informed of our work and has the opportunity to share their opinion. Part of this effort included door-to-door outreach and seasonal community meetings. This outreach aims to get community members involved in understanding the connection between CAFOs and water quality. CCRW provided educational materials, answered questions about our work and provided resources for residents who are being impacted by the CAFO industry.   

Photo: LEWIS, R. Volunteers canvassing in impacted communities. Right to left: Riley Lewis, Tonya Fisher, Logan Louis, Dan Crownover.

Most of the state’s 2,200 industrial hog operations rely on a primitive system to manage hog waste that involves storing untreated urine and feces in unlined pits and spraying the waste on nearby fields. This system, called the lagoon and sprayfield system, causes devastating water and air pollution; nearby families get sick and die at higher rates than people living farther away. These operations disproportionately cause harm to Black, Latino, Indigenous, and low-wealth rural communities.  

One of the unique characteristics of the White Oak River Basin is that many of our CAFOs are adjacent to homes occupied by US military families.  As part of our door-to-door outreach, we gained advocacy support from our military family community for efforts that will reduce CAFO pollution and inform service families.

Overall, this PFPW-WQ4F project will be a holistic assessment of the impacts that CAFOs have on water quality, fisheries, and quality of life in coastal NC. We have enjoyed collaborating with so many partners and sharing what we learn along the way.


Coastal Carolina Riverwatch launches new project to protect water quality, marine ecosystems from CAFOs

Coastal Carolina Riverwatch launches new water quality project