Posted by Ken Fine on Tue, Apr 11, 2017 at 12:01 AM
Travis Graves has hundreds of pictures that he says prove that over the last five years, hundreds of millions of fish have washed ashore along North Carolina’s Neuse River, which runs from northwest Durham into the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. Those fish kills, the Lower Neuse Riverkeeper says, can be traced to algae blooms that feed off nitrogen and phosphorus.
So last fall, when Hurricane Matthew flooded more than a dozen swine lagoons and several chicken farms in eastern North Carolina—all located within the Neuse River’s hundred-year floodplain—sending millions of gallons of nitrogen-rich hog waste and phosphorus-laden chicken excrement into the river, river advocates hit their panic buttons.
The state’s industrial hog farms were already damaging the Neuse by spraying waste onto fields near the river and its tributaries, they allege. But now, the river is in serious trouble.
On Tuesday morning, American Rivers listed the Neuse, along with the Cape Fear River, as the seventh most endangered river in the United States. In its report—“America’s Most Endangered Rivers 2017,” which highlights “ten rivers whose fate will be decided in the coming year”—the national river conservation organization blamed the millions of gallons of untreated hog feces and urine that North Carolina hog farmers spray onto fields that drain into streams and groundwater, which contaminate the Neuse with nitrogen, antibiotics, and bacteria, as well Hurricane Matthew-related flooding that spewed animal waste into the Neuse.
And the problem’s only going to get worse.
“The threat these facilities and their antiquated waste operations pose to our waters will only increase as the effects of climate change become more prevalent and North Carolina is subjected to more frequent powerful storms,” the report states.
Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, which, is on the receiving end of the vast majority of the more than two hundred thousand hogs living inside the Neuse floodplain, did not return a request for comment by press time.
There are currently sixty-two swine facilities that house more than 235,000 hogs and at least thirty poultry farms that house nearly two million chickens located within the Neuse’s hundred-year floodplain. Many of them, Graves says, were underwater in the days after Matthew battered the eastern part of the state. Very little has changed since.