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Aerial Photos Document Massive Flooding of 36 Factory Farms

Hurricane Matthew's rampage through North Carolina's coastal plain flooded more than 140 feces-strewn swine and poultry barns, more than a dozen open pits brimming with hog waste and thousands of acres of manure-saturated fields, an analysis by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Waterkeeper Alliance reveals.

From aerial surveys and imagery, the two organizations produced maps that provide the first publicly available, in-depth look at the impact of flooding on 36 factory farms along the Neuse, Black and Cape Fear rivers. As the images and maps show, dozens of confined animal feeding operations or CAFOs, were flooded along the sensitive plain, putting waterways, drinking water sources and public health at risk.

WaterKeeper Alliance / Google Earth

WaterKeeper Alliance / Google Earth

WaterKeeper Alliance / Google Earth

WaterKeeper Alliance / Google Earth

When floodwaters reach livestock confinement barns, waste pits or waste application fields, nearby surface water becomes contaminated with animal urine and feces, which contain a number of harmful pollutants including E. coli and salmonella. In the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd in 1999, dangerous levels of E. coli and Clostridium were found in water samples even after the flooding receded.

After Hurricane Matthew, Waterkeeper Alliance coordinated 20 aerial surveys to assess flooding impacts on swine and poultry CAFOs in eight North Carolina counties. Pilots flew over floodplains, creeks and swamps. Aerial photos document the flooding of 10 swine operations, 26 poultry facilities and 14 open-air waste pits—an ugly reminder of the recklessness of concentrating animal feeding operations in a low-lying area inundated annually by tropical storms.

EWG / Waterkeeper Alliance

"Hurricane Matthew once again exposed the threat posed by the location of industrial animal agriculture operations in the floodplain," said Will Hendrick, North Carolina Pure Farms, Pure Waters campaign manager for Waterkeeper Alliance. "Increasingly frequent and severe storms will continue to exacerbate the problems of current animal waste management practices until action is taken to protect our environment and public health from these vulnerable facilities."

After Hurricane Floyd, the state of North Carolina and Smithfield Farms moved to address the problem by closing or taking pollution prevention measures at CAFOs in the 100-year floodplain. The state spent nearly $20 million in taxpayer money to close a relatively small number of the most flood-vulnerable swine CAFOs.

"We need to be proactive in our preparedness for flood events," said Travis Graves, the Lower Neuse Riverkeeper. "After Hurricane Floyd we identified hundreds of at-risk facilities and removed some of them from the floodplain. Now we need to finish the job and get the rest of them out of harm's way."

In June, EWG, Waterkeeper Alliance and North Carolina Riverkeepers released a first-of-its-kind, interactive map revealing the locations of more than 6,500 CAFOs, including at least 170 open-air manure pits within the 100-year floodplain.

As animal waste continues to dissolve into sensitive waterways, the groups called on policymakers to address the problem once and for all—before another major storm bears down on North Carolina.

"It's only a matter of time until the next storm inundates North Carolina's coast, swamping factory farms and churning up feces-laden waste into vital waterways, including those that are sources of drinking water for many North Carolinians," wrote Soren Rundquist, EWG's director of spatial analysis and lead author of the report.

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