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NC Hog Farms Face New Regulations, Environmental Advocates Say It's Not Enough

Flooding caused by Hurricane Florence
N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Revised environmental permits mean new requirements for hog farms in flood-prone areas of the state.

North Carolina has more than 3,000 hog farm lagoons that store animal waste, which is sprayed on fields as fertilizer. Of those, the state Department of Environmental Quality identified around around 50, or less than 1 percent, that are extremely vulnerable to storm damage.

"These lagoons are squarely in 100 year floodplain," said DEQ Secretary Michael Regan, in a telephone interview. "These hog lagoons are also some of our oldest lagoons."

Regan said the new swine permit requires farmers at those facilities to install test wells and to monitor ground and surface water quality for at least two years.

"If there are eight consecutive quarters of no kind of violation then that groundwater monitoring requirement goes away," Regan added.

The secretary also said Governor Roy Cooper has asked the state legislature to add $120,000 to the budget to help offset the new compliance costs for affected farmers.

Environmental advocates say the hog lagoon system is outdated and prone to increasingly frequent and intense storms, like Hurricanes Florence and Michael, which caused historic flooding.

They also say the new DEQ permit fails to safeguard poor neighborhoods endangered by hazards from nearby hog farms.

"We advocated for the development and use of a geographic information systems tool," said Will Hendrick, staff attorney with Waterkeeper Alliance. "And that sort of tool can be used to identify the cumulative effects of different sources of pollution and compare those effects to local socio-economic and demographic factors as well as health data to identify areas where the impacts of facilities that the agency permits are disproportionately borne by communities of color."

Hendrick said permits issued to farms in these areas could have imposed more stringent conditions on the agricultural operations.

Juries in a spate of recent nuisance lawsuits against North Carolina-based Smithfield Foods have awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

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