‘Unfortunately there’s more trouble on the way for parts of Eastern North Carolina that have already been hit so hard…’

hog waste photo

Photo by eutrophication&hypoxia (CC)

(Will Doran, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)) Hurricane Florence’s heavy rains last week, along with ongoing major flooding, has caused one small hog lagoon to breach and flooded four others, according to the N.C. Pork Council.

In a statement Monday night, the council said another seven are at capacity and appear to have overtopped. Still, the council said after on-farm assessments and industry surveying, it did not believe there had been widespread impacts to 3,000 lagoons in the state that hold hog waste.

The hog farms and lagoons are just one of several environmental threats to the state from Florence.

Coal ash ponds, chemical factories, landfills and hazardous waste dumps also are located on or near North Carolina’s two main rivers in Eastern North Carolina, the Cape Fear River and the Neuse River.

Duke Energy provides power for most of North Carolina, as well as much of the rest of the Southeast, and some of its coal ash ponds throughout North Carolina are already flooding.

But Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said Monday that “everything is safe and sound.”

Hog lagoons

Soon after the worst of the storm had passed, the N.C. Pork Council said on Monday that of the thousands of hog lagoons in North Carolina, only a lagoon in Duplin County had breached and four others had been flooded. Another seven are at capacity and appear to have overtopped, according to the council.

Of the lagoon in Duplin County, the council’s statement said: “an on-site inspection showed that solids remained in the lagoon.”

In its statement, the council noted that during Hurricane Matthew 14 lagoons were inundated by floodwaters but no lagoons overtopped and the only breach was on an inactive farm.

The council said it would continue to assess the impact of the record-setting floods.

Hog lagoons are of concern because of their prevalence throughout Eastern North Carolina — especially in Sampson and Duplin counties — where massive numbers of hogs make North Carolina the second-largest pork producing state in the nation.

Damage to the farms would hurt the economy — hog farming is a $2.5 billion business in North Carolina according to N.C. Farm Families, an advocacy group funded largely by Smithfield Foods — and would also hurt the environment. Accompanying hog farms are hog lagoons, which store tons upon tons of waste.

The worst agricultural spill in state history was a 1995 hog lagoon breach in Onslow County, according to past News & Observer reporting. And following the devastation of Hurricane Floyd in 1999, which littered the state’s rivers with thousands of dead hogs and waste from 50 lagoon spills, the state paid some farmers in flood-prone areas to close down their operations.

While the number of reported hog lagoon spills after Florence has not been nearly as large as after past disasters, the numbers might still increase in the coming days as flooding worsens.

“The reports that I’ve seen estimate that many of these spots on the Cape Fear, the Lumber, the Neuse (rivers), they won’t crest until the middle of the week,” said Geoff Gisler, an SELC attorney, on Monday. “So unfortunately there’s more trouble on the way for parts of Eastern North Carolina that have already been hit so hard.”

While the Pork Council said it remained “concerned about the potential impact of these record-shattering floods,” it also noted that during Hurricane Matthew municipal wastewater treatment plants spilled more than 154 million gallons of untreated human waste into the state’s waterways.

On Friday, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority on Friday reported that more than 5 million gallons of partially-treated wastewater spilled out of its sewage plant south of downtown Wilmington and flowed into the Cape Fear River, a few miles upstream of the Atlantic Ocean.

And on Monday, Johnston County reported two smaller spills of about 300,000 gallons of sewage, with more than a quarter of a million gallons spilling in Selma and 28,000 gallons spilling near the Neuse River between Smithfield and Four Oaks.

©2018 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.