Hog CAFO Rollback Threatens Communities, Rivers and Property Rights

Photo by Bob Nichols, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

At the August 26th Board of Natural Resources (DNR Board) meeting, the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) proposed changes to Georgia’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) rules. The proposed changes include an alarming roll-back of Georgia’s hog-waste rule that endangers water quality and public health.

Photo by Bob Nichols, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

At the August 26th Board of Natural Resources (DNR Board) meeting, the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) proposed changes to Georgia’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) rules. The proposed changes include an alarming roll-back of Georgia’s hog-waste rule that endangers water quality and public health.

August 28, 2013 - At the August 26th Board of Natural Resources (DNR Board) meeting, the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) proposed changes to Georgia’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) rules.  The proposed changes include an alarming roll-back of Georgia’s hog-waste rule that endangers water quality and public health.

Photo by Bob Nichols, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

“The proposed change would significantly weaken safeguards for large hog operations and allow significantly larger hog CAFOs in Georgia without strong protections for our communities, property rights and rivers” said Chris Manganiello, Policy Director for Georgia River Network.

The proposed change would raise the threshold of Georgia’s hog-waste rule from 7,500 hogs to 12,500 hogs. Among other protections, the hog-waste rule requires notice to neighboring landowners before operations begin; puts limits on open waste lagoons and spraying; ensures that facilities have the financial means to properly close old waste lagoons; sets stronger buffers between facilities and state waters, public water supplies, schools, and occupied residences; and restricts permitting of operators that have multiple past environmental law violations.     

In 1998–1999, the DNR Board passed the protective regulations that are now being rolled back.  At the time, large hog CAFOs proposed for the state included a 10,000-hog facility in Tattnall County and a 20,000-hog facility in Taylor County.  Faced with reports of hog-waste disasters from mega-hog facilities in other states and armed with input from the public and interested stakeholders, the DNR Board and EPD adopted the common sense requirements for hog CAFOs housing more than 7,500 hogs, representing a compromise between allowing for livestock production in Georgia and protecting our state’s waterways for clean drinking water and other uses, communities and private property. 

“At that time, DNR board members agreed that property owners who lived adjacent to, and downstream of, the proposed hog facilities faced significant threats to their health and property” said Mark Woodall, Chair for the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “It is clear that the 1998–1999 DNR board members knew the risks of mega-hog CAFOs and acted to protect Georgians.  Today’s board should not roll back such a well thought out rule.”;
Estimates vary, but the amount of manure and waste produced by one hog can equal four times the amount produced by a human.  Thus, a CAFO with 12,000 hogs could produce the same amount of waste as a population of 48,000 people, and that amount of waste would no longer fall under the strong, common sense requirements of Georgia’s hog-waste rule.
 
North Carolina provides striking examples of the risks posed by large hog operations and waste lagoons.  In 1995, an eight-acre hog waste lagoon ruptured and poured 25 million gallons of liquid manure into North Carolina’s New River.  According to one report, “knee-deep red, soupy waste rushed over roads and tobacco and soybean fields and into two nearby tributaries of the New River until the waste lagoon, which is 12 feet deep and held waste from more than 10,000 hogs, was virtually empty.”  More than 10 million fish were killed, and more than 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands were closed to fishermen. 

“The damage from the hog CAFOs and waste lagoons may have been mitigated if North Carolina had the strong rules that Georgia currently has in place” said Lauren Joy, Associate Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd made landfall in North Carolina, killing an estimated 30,000 hogs and flooding nearly 50 liquid manure lagoons and causing five more to fail completely.  Millions of gallons of hog waste poured into six coastal rivers.  As the waste easily escaped with the flood waters, it also seeped into private drinking water wells. Nine percent of the 310 private drinking water wells tested were contaminated. 

The problems in North Carolina don't just occur during tropical storms and hurricanes, they occur every time there is a substantial rain of a few inches. “When hog waste lagoons are full of hog manure and rain, operators of these facilities have no choice but to pump that sludge onto fields that are already soaking wet and puddled up, just like they are in south Georgia right now” said Gordon Rogers, the Flint Riverkeeper. “When that happens, the hog manure flows into the creeks and rivers and landowners and communities downstream are polluted and their health and property values are affected.”;

The proposed rule change will now go back to EPD who will coordinate a public comment process before the DNR Board considers final adoption of the rule change in December.

April Ingle
Georgia River Network
Executive Director
http://www.garivers.org

For more information contact:
Chris Manganiello, Georgia River Network: 706-549-4508 or chris@garivers.org
Mark Woodall, Sierra Club: 706-601-1118 or woodallmark8@gmail.com
Lauren Joy, Southern Environmental Law Center: 404-521-9900 or ljoy@selcga.org
Gordon Rogers, Flint Riverkeeper: 912-223-6761 or gordon@flintriverkeeper.org