Nutrients Take Center Stage in Early 2013

Multiple state standards in both North Carolina and South Carolina will be set in 2013, and there will be plenty of opportunities for important public comment.

Nutrients Take Center Stage in Early 2013

Map of Nutrient Criteria by State

Nutrient pollution is a problem that increasingly plagues the Catawba River basin.  This past October was the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, which set forth multiple standards to help clean up our water.  While the CWA did a good job of cleaning up point source pollution, the non-point source pollution -- most notably nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous -- has worsened with development and population growth.  Nutrients come from everywhere, from residential and golf course lawn fertilization to improperly managed agricultural waste.  And they efficiently concentrate in our waterways.

However, in addressing these issues, three opportunities have presented themselves for Winter 2013.  Catawba Riverkeeper will be tirelessly working on them, especially in the upcoming two months before comments in two of the cases are due in February.  We will send out more notices as we progress on the issue, but CRF will need your help in making sure state and local governments know that the people they serve care about these issues!

NC DENR Nutrient Criteria Development Plan

SC DHEC Sludge Spreading

CAFOs (Agricultural Waste)

NC DENR Nutrient Criteria Development Plan

Nitrogen and phosphorous currently not regulated in North Carolina

The EPA has been encouraging North Carolina to develop nutrient criteria.  Currently, North Carolina has no criteria for nitrogen and phosphorous.  North Carolina developed an initial plan in 2004, but this new plan will lead to rules within approximately the next four years.

The key problem for dealing with nutrient issues has been that the current standards are based on response variables (i.e., algae, chlorophyll a, dissolved oxygen).  The much better metric is to directly deal with nutrient problems by setting standards for causal variables (the nutrients themselves), basically the 'root' of the problem.  This will entail establishing standards for lakes/reservoirs, streams, wetlands and estuaries.  South Carolina has at least established N and P criteria for lakes/reservoirs.  Most other states have, too.

Map of Nutrient Criteria Progress


DENR has made this statement on its website:

"A work group of DWQ staff from Standards, Permitting, Monitoring, and the Raleigh Regional Office are using the directives from the Nutrient Forum panelists to assist in identifying possible projects that would lead to adoption of additional nutrient criteria.

The projects will be shaped by the Nutrient Forum, public input, and activities going on around the nation. The plan will:

  • Highlight and enhance North Carolina’s current approaches to nutrient management
  • Provide for exploration of site-specific and waterbody type-specific approaches
  • Provide for exploration of built-in protection and prevention
  • Include review of a variety of possible criteria including response variables like benthic macroinvertebrates, periphyton, continuous dissolved oxygen, total organic carbon, algal densities and causal variables like nitrogen and phosphorus, and
  • Involve all stakeholders"


Public input will be accepted through February 4, 2013.  After that, the plan will be fully developed and sent the Environmental Management Commission. There is currently no plan for formal public input after the plan is produced, though a copy will be made available, and additional comments can be sent to EMC members directly.

We will definitely be asking people to send in comments and will help answer any questions you might have.  STAY TUNED!


SC DHEC Sludge Spreading

Comment period open for spreading of Charlotte-Mecklenburg sludge

So, you flush a toilet and all unpleasantries, and what you flush goes to a wastewater treatment plant.  There, the waste is treated, and clean water is released into a stream.  All is good, right?  Not quite.

Matter is neither created nor destroyed.  The concoction of various atoms and molecules removed from the water are concentrated into a solid form -- sludge.  This sludge has extremely high levels of nutrients, metals, pharmaceuticals and a number of other constituents.  The high nutrient content has made application onto the land of accepting individuals the preferred method of sludge disposal.

Farmers receive nutrients for their crops and for their grass used to feed livestock, but in addition to nutrients, farmers also receive concentrated toxic metals and pharmaceuticals.  And farmland is not the only recipients.  Streams, groundwater, and even livestock eating crops and grass fertilized with sludge also see the metals and nutrients. 

When sludge is applied on farmland, neighbors can end up encountering it, too.  Perhaps you've passed a field freshly spread with sludge or a field with a truck still actively applying the material.

Sludge spreading

If you can smell it, that's 'it' getting into your nose.  Smell is not a wave like sound.  Rather, smell indicates that sludge has aerosolized (become a fine, airborne particle) and left the property where it was applied.  Common effects range from asthma to burning eyes.

In streams, rivers, and lakes, after the sludge has been rinsed of its nutrients by rainfall, there are immense problems with nutrient overloading and degraded water quality.  Additionally, if the sludge has not been thoroughly and homogeneously treated, then bacteriological issues can occur, and any pre-existing bacteria problems in waterways can be exacerbated by the increase in nutrients.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg sends its sludge to thousands of acres in the Catawba basin in South Carolina (York, Lancaster, Chester and Fairfield Counties).  The process is regulated by a permit through the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), and comments on that permit are now open (running through February 15, 2013). 

We will also be asking plenty of you folks (especially down on Lake Wateree that see all the rundown) to comment.  Some of our key requests will be that the sludge is made to be Class A (less potent and problematic; currently is only Class B), that the material is applied in such a way that it is less likely to leave the applied site (i.e., direct injection), that more notification is given prior to spreading (many neighbors have suffered reactions to the spreading), and that spreading is kept at a greater distance from homes, schools and churches.

Sludge spreading is an issue that affects not just nutrients and the environment but also public health and property rights -- South Carolinians have a right to sit on their porch and not have their lungs, eyes, and property (and property value) subjected to sludge. 



CAFOs (Agricultural Waste)

Sampling will ramp up, flyovers will continue

Our first two CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) flyovers have been very insightful experiences in multiple facets.  First, the number of poultry houses in the basin -- mainly north of Lake Hickory and in the South Fork sub-basin -- is incredible.  More than 300 have been identified thus far using aerial images.  To compare, we have three swine CAFOs and less than 30 cattle/cow CAFOs.

Poultry operations are exempt from public record (the excuse being that their sites present a biohazard).  They produce massive quantities of waste, which can be dealt with in a number of ways, such as wet pond storage and land application.  To prevent the waste from reaching waterways, it must be covered.  Understandably, it needs to be moved around, or it might rapidly accumulate with no covered storage available.  Thus, waste may be left uncovered for no more than 15 days at a time.  Most CAFOs we flew over had no exposed waste, but some did and for more than 15 days.  We are waiting to hear back from Division of Water Quality on any potential violations.

The waste is a significant problem not just for the nutrients associated with animal waste but also for arsenic.  Companies give arsenic-containing pharmaceuticals to, believe it or not, help birds grow.  However, much of this arsenic passes through, is contained in waste, and quickly is processed by bacteria into a dangerous form in the environment.

We will be continuing our flyovers to identify the most problematic areas.  Stream testing for nutrients, metals and bacteria will also begin soon as we start to quantify this problem.




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To report South Carolina water pollution call 1-888-481-0125.

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715 N. Church St., Suite 120 . Charlotte, NC 28202 . Phone: 704.679.9494 . Fax: 704.679.9559