A Pristine Black River?

On Friday, January 21st, I woke up to learn of an advertisement that was making the rounds that was attempting to discredit environmental groups like mine that want to put an end to pollution from industrialized animal production. This slick commercial, paid for by the hog industry, pointed to the Black River, a tributary of the Cape Fear, as an example of a “pristine” waterway in hog country proving that the waste from millions of hogs in my river basin doesn’t flow downstream.

When someone makes false claims about my river I take it very personally. I know the pressure that the Cape Fear is under from hog waste. My basin is home to the highest density of hogs in the nation, confined inside while their feces are held in open pits and then sprayed through the air and onto the waterlogged landscape. To claim that liquefied waste does not flow downstream is absurd and offensive. I was outraged that multinational corporations like Smithfield Foods were putting massive amounts of money into advertising in an effort to discredit me instead of investing in pollution controls on their hog factories.

So I did what Riverkeepers do best: Investigate and find the truth.  I loaded up the truck, grabbed some sampling kits, and cruised up to the headwaters of the Black River basin in Sampson County, which is home to about two million hogs (second in the nation to Duplin County, right next door). I was able to take nine water quality samples on all of the major tributaries to the Black River before heading back to the state certified lab in Wilmington, NC to drop them off for testing.

I knew that the Lower Cape Fear RIver Program at UNC Wilmington does a lot of sampling in that area, so when I got back to the office I checked the minutes from a recent meeting. Lo and behold, right there in the minutes were notes from Dr. Michael Mallin’s water sampling results from August and September 2015 saying the “South River [a major tributary of the Black] had high chlorophyll (145 ug/L) and fecal coliform counts (41,000 col/100 mL). Many of the North East and Black River sites had elevated [fecal] coliform (9000 to greater than 60,000 col/100 mL).”  In attendance at the meeting was a representative from Smithfield Foods, the foreign-owned corporation that controls most hog operations in North Carolina either by ownership or contract.

I can’t say I was surprised when I got my sampling results back from the lab this week: 100% of the water samples I took in the Black River basin exceeded the state standard for fecal coliform bacteria. That means bacteria from feces are getting into our water, and common sense tells me it’s coming from the 2,000,000 hogs upstream.

Undoubtedly, the hog industry will continue to try to discredit me.  They will point fingers and try to hide behind the image of the simple family farmer.  But, to be clear, corporations that are only interested in their bottom line dictate how these industrial facilities operate, and the lagoon and sprayfield system of waste disposal puts our waterways at risk no matter who is operating them.  My hope is that one day I’ll wake up to hear them investing in solutions, not PR efforts trying to hide the truth.

Kemp Burdette
Cape Fear Riverkeeper

 

Press Release from the Watereeper Alliance

Hog Industry’s Assertion that Black River is Clean Doesn’t Stand Up to Scrutiny
100% of Water Sampled Exceeded State Safety Levels

RALEIGH — Waterkeeper Alliance and Cape Fear River Watch, a Waterkeeper Organization, announced today that water sampling data taken from the Black River basin exceeded North Carolina State standards for fecal coliform bacteria, indicators of the presence of animal waste.

The relative health of the Black River was highlighted recently in paid advertisements  by the pork industry, which claimed that the Black River, running ‘right in the middle of hog country,’ remains one of the cleanest in the state.

“This statement is simply untrue,” said Christian Breen, North Carolina CAFO Coordinator at Waterkeeper Alliance. “The test results speak for themselves. We sampled every major tributary of the Black in multiple locations and 100% of the nine samples exceeded the North Carolina State standard for fecal coliform bacteria. This is highly indicative of waste in the water from industrialized hog operations within the Black River Basin that operate with antiquated lagoons and spray fields for waste disposal.”

The Black River, part of the lower Cape Fear River basin, has its headwaters in Sampson County, NC, home to about 2,000,000 hogs confined in industrialized facilities.  Waterkeeper Alliance and Cape Fear River Watch took water quality samples from 9 locations on all of the major tributaries to the Black River on January 21, 2016. Testing at a state certified lab confirmed that every sample taken exceeded the state standard for fecal coliform bacteria. Fecal coliform bacteria are an indicator of the presence of waste in water.

“The Black River is a state treasure, and we now see that time is running out for it to remain able to mitigate the impacts of pollution from industrialized hog operations,” said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper. “Until the industry, which is controlled by multinational corporations and not family farmers, decides to invest in the use of superior treatment technology to treat raw hog waste before it enters our waterways, Waterkeeper Alliance and North Carolina Riverkeepers will continue to sample and hold them accountable for their actions.”

These results are not news for the hog industry. Minutes from the Lower Cape Fear River Program meeting convened on November 17, 2015 reveal that Dr. Michael Mallin (UNC-Wilmington) presented water sampling results from August and September 2015 in the Lower Cape Fear Basin. The “South River [a major tributary of the Black] had high chlorophyll (145 ug/L) and fecal coliform counts (41,000 col/100 mL). Many of the North East and Black River sites had elevated [fecal] coliform (9000 to greater than 60,000 col/100 mL).” In attendance at the meeting was a representative from Smithfield Foods, the foreign owned corporation that controls most hog operations in North Carolina either by ownership or contract.