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Hurricane Florence Flooded Poultry Operations Housing 1.8 Million Birds, Investigation Finds
The heavy rains and high waters after Hurricane Florence flooded 35 industrial poultry operations in North Carolina housing an estimated 1.8 million birds, according to a new investigation by Waterkeeper Alliance and the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
The analysis details how the swine and poultry industry, in the absence of smarter regulation, is not only repeating mistakes, it's compounding them. For instance, 18 of the industrial swine or poultry operations either surrounded or inundated by Florence floodwaters were flooded by Hurricane Matthew, in 2016. And of the 35 industrial poultry operations confirmed flooded, nine were new operations that had been built following flooding by Hurricane Matthew.
The groups released an interactive map, available here, showing the location of industrial animal operations in the state where waste pits or piles were either flooded, breached or surrounded by floodwaters after Hurricane Florence. The new report is an update to the Fields of Filth investigation the groups produced in 2016, and the follow-up in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, when EWG and Waterkeeper Alliance documented 36 swine and poultry operations hit by flooding.
Flooded poultry operations pose a significant environmental threat, as poultry operations are North Carolina's largest and fastest growing source of nutrient pollution, according to a 2017 report from the state's Department of Environmental Quality. North Carolina's poultry industry produced 56.6 million pounds of plant-available nitrogen in 2014, according to the state's report. That was three times as much nitrogen that year as the state's swine industry, which is second in size nationally only to Iowa's. North Carolina's poultry produced 79.8 million pounds of phosphorus in 2014, six times more phosphorus than the swine industry.
The North Carolina poultry operations that flooded during Hurricane Florence generated an estimated 22,525 tons of waste a year, according to EWG.
The groups will be doing regular testing of water quality in the coming months, and anticipate releasing a followup report in 2019.
"There's no permitting system for poultry in North Carolina, so the state doesn't know where these operations are located," said Christian Breen, a field investigator with Waterkeeper Alliance. "No one did the due diligence to say, 'Is this really a good place to build them?'"
Soren Rundquist, director of spatial analysis at the Environmental Working Group, said that through his work examining satellite images and geotagged aerial photographs following Hurricane Florence, "I've already located hundreds of poultry operations that have been built in North Carolina since Hurricane Matthew hit. Despite the overwhelming evidence that allowing new facilities to be built will result in more flooding and more pollution, regulators are turning a blind eye to the problem."
Waterkeeper Alliance and the Environmental Working Group used geotagged aerial photographs, high-resolution satellite imagery, a state database of hog operation locations and an earlier Waterkeeper Alliance investigation of poultry locations using satellite imagery to identify hog and poultry operations. The groups used an algorithm based on the state's formula to estimate the number of animals the operations house.
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By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
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