CRF Flies Over CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) in Basin
Fecalcoliformilisticexpialidocious! Fly-over identifies the good, the bad and the ugly of CAFOs in the basin
On Tuesday, October 16, 2012, CRF Director of Technical Programs Sam Perkins and Waterkeeper Alliance NC CAFO Coordinator Larry Baldwin flew over the Catawba basin to investigate CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). The agricultural operations are key parts of the local economy, and many operate in the appropriate manner that minimizes their environmental impacts. However, many CAFOs remain isolated and are sources of dangerous bacteria (i.e., fecal coliform/E. coli) and nutrient overloading (i.e., phosphates, nitrates, nitrites, ammonia).
Many people are familiar with the swine CAFOs prevalent in Eastern North Carolina. Those operations are particularly problematic because of their large ponds of extremely hazardous waste. Such ponds are susceptible to breaches during hurricanes, and the effects on waterways can be devastating.
To the west, throughout the Catawba basin, cow/cattle CAFOs are relatively prevalent. Through public records, CRF has identified approximately 30 cow/cattle CAFOs. And even here, there are three swine CAFOs. A majority of the Catawba CAFOs drain into the South Fork River and into Lake Hickory. However, there is one other CAFO type -- poultry -- and it is prevalent everywhere.
Swine CAFO locations were once allowed to remain confidential. While they eventually were forced to disclose their locations, the same is currently not true for poultry operations, which might be the most concerning CAFO type because chickens are given arsenic-laced feed to keep their digestive systems flushed out -- meaning, the arsenic is going to flush out into waste, too. During our flight, we saw hundreds of long, aluminum chicken houses. At any given moment, you could look out the plane and see a dozen chicken houses.
The waste presents contamination problems on multiple fronts, but the two main issues are with regard to fecal coliform (E. coli) and to nutrient overloading. Waste is stored correctly either as dry waste covered by a tarp or as liquid waste in a confined pond. A majority of what we could see from the air was properly managed. Often, we saw uncovered waste piles, animals wading in streams, over-application of waste to fields, and other waste-related issues that concern us.
CRF is testing the streams for fecal coliform issues around some of these CAFOs, and we are conducting multiple other follow-up investigations to make sure that the water reaching your lakes and drinking water reservoirs is in tip-top shape.
The flight -- in a Cessna 206 out of the Shelby airport -- was arranged by SouthWings, a conservation and public benefit aviation non-profit that provides skilled pilots and aerial education to enhance conservation efforts across the Southeast.
A sampling of more photographs:
A cattle/cow CAFO. Notice the stream running through the property. Also, the white tarps are properly covering waste, although the waste is filled up the storage.
Cattle/cow CAFO with waste ponds and waste piles.
A cattle/cow CAFO sandwiched between poultry CAFOs. To the left, notice the pond with a St. Patrick's Day-esque iridescent green plume from waste.
An Alexander County CAFO. Notice the wetland and stream adjacent to the operation.
A school group on a field trip just 100 yards away from a very large cache of uncovered waste piles.
When a CAFO has more waste than it can handle, it sits uncovered in piles, which it is permitted to do for no more than 14 days.
Waste being over-applied onto a spray field, evident by the runoff stream.