Pure Farms, Pure Water

Through the Pure Farms, Pure Waters campaign, Coastal Carolina Riverwatch works with other NC Waterkeepers and several amazing statewide advocates to address the impacts of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).  

The Pure Farms, Pure Waters campaign calls attention to the destructive pollution practices of industrial agriculture and factory farms, advocates compliance with environmental laws, and supports the traditional family farms that industrial practices endanger. The Pure Farms, Pure Waters campaign addresses the failure to regulate pollution from industrialized swine, poultry, and dairy facilities that are devastating rivers, lakes, and estuaries and lowering the quality of life in our communities.

Coastal Carolina Riverwatch (CCRW) educates the public about the impacts to quality of water and quality of life, supports communities and local farmers, and advocates for sustainable food systems.  

We work to help decision-makers understand the need to strengthen and enforce existing rules on the discharge of animal waste into our waterways, seek to hold corporations that dictate facility operations accountable for waste management practices, promote best management policies that protect our waterways, and support independent farmers, and take legal action against violators.

CAFO pollution has affected North Carolinians for decades. Each year, NC hogs produce 10 billion gallons of manure. This unmanageable amount of waste is contaminating our waterways and harming our communities. In our watershed, the New River is most heavily impacted.  Coastal Carolina Riverwatch collects regular water samples surrounding these facilities to analyze for fecal bacteria. We also conduct watershed flyovers to look for pollution violations. By collecting this data, we can work with several statewide partners to advocate for the reform of these destructive industries”. -Rebecca Drohan, former Waterkeeper, Coastal Carolina Riverwatch (in photo).

“This is not only a water quality problem, but also a justice problem. Communities that surround these densely packed farms are disproportionately affected by noxious odors, loud industrial noises, and the threat of hog waste flowing into their homes during  storms. These communities are much more likely to be communities of color and low income, which makes this an environmental justice issue.” – Riley Lewis, White Oak Waterkeeper

What is a CAFO?
CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. These are commonly known as “factory farms”. They are large, windowless production facilities where thousands of animals are confined in crates or stalls without access to sunshine, fresh air, or natural vegetation. With massive amounts of animals, comes massive amounts of unmanageable waste. North Carolina is number two in the nation for industrial swine production and number three for poultry. Eastern NC is particularly inundated with these facilities. 
DEQ Animal Feeding Operations Facility Map

North Carolina’s hogs produce 10 billion gallons of manure each year. Hog waste is stored in large open-air “lagoons”, or cesspools. Liquid from these pools is sprayed onto adjacent fields for disposal. As the waste is sprayed, it can run into our waterways. During heavy rain events, lagoons can fail. Millions of gallons of untreated waste can be spilled and animals are left to die.

Onslow County swine CAFO lagoon. Photo: Rebecca Drohan, former Waterkeeper, Coastal Carolina Riverwatch

Though safe waste management of swine operations is severely lacking, these facilities are subject to State permitting and regulations. Poultry operations are not. NC’s poultry industry is rapidly growing with very little oversight and almost no public records. 

NC poultry operations produce 5 million tons of waste per year. Poultry waste, mixed with bedding and carcasses is stored in large piles. These piles are often left uncovered, easily blown away by wind, or washed into our waters. Due to a lack of transparency within the industry, very little is known about where this waste is transported and how it is disposed. 

Poultry facility with uncovered litter piles. Photo: Larry Baldwin, Waterkeeper Alliance

Swine and poultry pollution have severe impacts on the environment and on public health.

CAFO waste contains:

  • Urine and feces 
  • E. coli and other pathogens
  • Nitrogen, phosphorus, and ammonia 
  • Antibiotic-resistant bacteria
  • Pharmaceuticals  
  • Hormones
  • Heavy metals

When CAFO waste enters the environment, these contaminants come with it. This can pollute soil and groundwater, and make surface waters unsafe to recreate in. Nutrient overload from nitrogen and phosphorus can cause harmful algae blooms and fish kills.  Many of these operations were built in areas prone to flooding. During heavy rain events, massive amounts of waste can be spilled and animals are left to die. CAFO waste can also enter the air as particulate matter. 

Communities surrounding these facilities are impacted with diminished quality of life due to overwhelming odors and health complications from air and water pollution. These impacts disproportionately affect communities of low income and/or People of Color, making CAFOs a significant environmental justice issue. 

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.


Urge NC Senators and Representatives to Support Swine Floodplain Buyouts

History & Background of Program: 

After Hurricane Floyd devastated North Carolina in 1999 and caused the flooding of dozens of hog waste lagoons in eastern North Carolina, the NC General Assembly created and funded a Swine Floodplain Buyout Program. In all, the State has spent nearly $19 million to halt operations on 43 swine farms. Overall funding for this program has been very limited in the past decade. In 2007, the legislature stopped funding the program and turned away over 100 farmers who applied. Later in 2018, when funding was once again made available, there was only enough funding to close 3-5 facilities out of the 23 that applied. In October 2019, the program received another $5 million as part of a $280 million disaster relief package. The $5 million comes from both State and federal funds, which will cover the purchase of 5-8 farms. Last year, Governor Roy Cooper’s draft budget initially included $18 million in funding for the voluntary swine buyout program, but ultimately the budget passed in last year’s legislature did not include any funding for the buyout program.

What the Program Does:  

The program funds are used to close waste lagoons, purchase swine production and development rights, and establish conservation easements on properties currently used for swine production located in the 100-year floodplain. Participants in the program are required to develop and implement a soil and water conservation plan for the area within the 100-year floodplain and are reimbursed by MCDA&CS and NRCS for a portion of the cost of installing best management practices in the plan.  Participants are also required to implement a permanent 50-ft wide riparian buffer on all perennial and intermittent streams, the installation of which is also fully reimbursed by NCDA&CS. 

Since participation in the program relinquishes the facility’s permit, operators cannot relocate the facility and continue operating at another location. Interested participants submit an application to NCDA&CS requesting the total dollar amount they are willing to accept as compensation for ceasing production and allowing a permanent conservation easement to be placed on their property. The applications are ranked based on several criteria: the facility’s history of flooding, distance to a water supply or high-quality waters, structural condition of the lagoons and the elevation of the hog barns and lagoon dikes to the 100-year flood plain.

Benefits of Swine Floodplain Buyout:

  • Properties located within a 100-yr flood plain are prone to flooding during storm events and hurricanes. When that property is occupied by an industrialized hog farm, there is risk of the waste lagoon being breached/overtopping/being inundated, and millions of gallons of hog waste being washed into our waterways. 
  • The need for the swine floodplain buyout program is as great as ever. Just five years ago, Hurricane Florence resulted in the flooding of 46 swine waste lagoons and another 60 were nearly overtopped by rising rivers. Inundation mapping performed by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Emergency Programs Division indicates that 32 of the 43 swine facilities close out with previous years’ funding would have likely flooded again during Hurricane Matthew. Pollution of water resources due to flooding of industrial hog facilities is a concern every hurricane season.
  • The buyout program is 100% voluntary and participants in the buyout program do not lose their land. Landowners retain ownership of their land and can still use it for agricultural purposes–just not for industrialized animal production.  
  • The program is in high demand! When the Division of Soil and Water Conservation opened up applications in 2018-2019, 23 facilities applied, but there was only enough funding to close three or four of them. 
  • The flooding of swine waste lagoons is an environmental justice issue that disproportionately impacts low income and communities of color, who are more likely to live in proximity to these facilities. Therefore, buying out farms located in flood-prone areas is an important step toward lifting up communities who have historically suffered the impacts of pollution from swine facilities, and proactively protecting the future health of these communities.
  • Swine buyout funding is a win-win for eastern North Carolina  – the voluntary program supports farmers in need while also protecting the water resources and public health of those living near or downstream of the facilities that are at grave risk of flooding each hurricane season. 
  • This funding will help the Division of Soil and Water do its job. Currently, the division is doing all it can to support the buyout program with grant requests and funding, but the demand is far greater than grant funds will support.  
  • We know that climate change is already impacting North Carolina, and will only continue to do so. Hurricanes present a threat to the state year after year.


The Charlotte Observer and The News&Observer – BIG POULTRY Part 1, Part 2

EPA to investigate Smithfield hog farm