Chicken Little and the Waterkeeper

An acorn must have fallen on the head of Waterkeeper Dana Sargent during Hurricane Florence. Because ever since the storm first began approaching North Carolina in September, the Waterkeepers have been running around screaming that the sky is falling!

Or, in their words, North Carolina’s family farmers are destroying our environment with toxic waste.

When an acorn landed on the head of Chicken Little, she famously incited a panic. As one telling puts it, “she disturbed a whole neighborhood by her foolish alarm.”

That sounds familiar.

The Waterkeepers would like you to believe that every lagoon in eastern North Carolina is overflowing with hog manure. In a recent column in The News & Observer, Sargent and the Waterkeepers said that “hog waste literally blanketed huge parts of the state and fouled our drinking water” during Hurricane Florence.

And The News & Observer editors didn’t think twice about publishing such nonsense.

Perhaps they need a refresher on the moral of the Chicken Little story: Don’t believe everything you hear.

After all, this isn’t the first time the Waterkeepers have made blatantly false claims about the impact of Hurricane Florence. Right after the storm, they proclaimed there was “insanely toxic” contamination found near Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds in Wilmington.“

Hurricane Florence Unleashes Toxic Coal Ash,” blared Earthjustice. And The News & Observer duly reported the news: Environmentalists say Cape Fear ‘insanely toxic’, repeating the Waterkeeper’s claims that arsenic levels were 71 times higher than the state safety standard for water quality.

What happened next? The state’s Department of Environmental Quality had to set the record straight, explaining that flooding from Hurricane Florence “did not contaminate the Cape Fear River,” as The N&O reported.

DEQ Secretary Michael Regan had to do the exact same thing in response to concerns about hog lagoons during the flood.

“We are really focused on our wastewater treatment facilities because there are probably orders of magnitude more human waste that has escaped these wastewater treatment facilities than what has escaped these hog lagoons,” he said.

Yet, the Waterkeepers continue to ignore the facts and continue to make the same false claims against our family farmers.Here are two relevant facts from Hurricane Florence that aren’t in dispute:

  1. Despite eight trillion gallons of rain and the record-shattering floods that followed, more than 98% of North Carolina’s lagoons worked exactly as intended and suffered no significant impact from Hurricane Florence.

  2. Municipal wastewater treatment plants spilled tens of millions of gallons of human waste into our rivers, creeks and stream when they were overwhelmed by the floodwaters. And human waste poses significantly higher risks than animal waste (thus the concerns shared by the state’s top environmental official).

The Waterkeepers have no credibility left. They keep screaming that the “sky is falling!” and the facts keep proving them wrong.

Years ago, another activist group issued a report claiming that the Neuse and Cape Fear rivers were among the ten most endangered rivers in America. The N&O prominently posted that story, too. American Rivers, the group behind the report, later admitted that “the rankings aren’t a scientific assessment of river quality,” but part of a coordinated effort being pushed by the Waterkeepers to influence state lawmakers.

That’s three times they have yelled “the sky is falling!” — and three times they’ve been proven wrong by the facts. How can anyone still believe their claims are credible?The next time a newspaper editor hears a Waterkeeper blasting North Carolina farmers, they should exercise tremendous caution — and ask if an acorn recently fell on their head.

Waterkeepers up to their old tricks:Misleading the public about hog farmers

The Waterkeepers are up to their old tricks once again. They have recently published a petition, pushing folks to “tell the Cooper administration: Hold industrial hog polluters accountable.” The petition was accompanied by a short article that discussed cesspools, dumping waste, pollution, and a lack of transparency by hog farmers.

The Waterkeepers chose to frame the General Permit and hog farmers in such a way that left us confused and a bit offended. So, we’d like to clarify a few things:

  1. Hog farmers are not opposed to the General Permit. We understand that regulations are important. We do, however, have concerns regarding some of the requirements. Those concerns do not mean we are opposed to regulations, rather we just want to ensure that the permit has sound and sensical requirements that benefit both hog farmers and the community.

  2. Hog farmers already regularly report management of swine manure to the state, unlike what the Waterkeepers say.

  3. The Waterkeepers say it is “time for more oversight, accountability, and transparency.” Hog farmers have had state oversight for years. We’ve been held accountable by the state, trade organizations, and the community. And, as for transparency regarding manure management…we’ve given explanation after explanation of how it works. We’ve written blogs, aired TV commercials, and invited people to farms. Just last week we published two blogs discussing lagoons. No transparency?

  4. If the Waterkeepers are so concerned with the pollution of water, why do they only focus on hog farmers? Why do they continue to ignore sewer spills which were far worse than hog farm spills during the horrific Hurricane Florence?

We could go on and on about the discrepancies the Waterkeepers post, but we think you get the idea. They love to frame hog farmers as careless polluters. The truth is, we aren’t. We care.Publicly, we’d like to say, that we appreciate the Waterkeepers offer to be our accountability partner, but respectfully decline. We prefer partners who don’t spread falsehoods about us. We don’t need that negativity in our lives.

Understanding Pig Lagoons: Everything You Need to Know

There are three key things to understand about lagoons: (1) How they are designed, (2) the anaerobic process that takes place inside lagoons, and (3) the benefits they offer to farmers. Let’s look at these separately:


Most lagoons are constructed as an earthen basin. They are earth-walled structures that use basin liners to prevent groundwater contamination. Lagoons must have a liner, which is typically made of clay or geosynthetic plastics.

Lagoons must meet specific design criteria. Everything from size to dike construction are carefully engineered to meet state regulations. It is far more complicated than just digging a hole in the ground. Just like a building must meet certain codes and regulations, so does a hog lagoon.

Where Can Lagoons be Built?

Another major aspect of lagoon design is the location. In North Carolina, there are many rules that say hog lagoons may only be built certain distance away from wells, only in certain soil types, etc. Along with placement of lagoons, the fields where waste water can be applied must be carefully placed (more on that later).One thing that many people don’t realize is that no new hog lagoons have been built in North Carolina for more than twenty years. The state legislature passed a moratorium on construction of new hog farms in 1997 and those restrictions remain in place today.


Lagoons may not seem very complicated, but there is actually a lot going on in that earthen basin. From anaerobic bacteria to pink water, lagoons require a closer look.

Anaerobic Process

The anaerobic process is where the magic happens in the lagoon. It is the process that occurs when anaerobic bacteria grow in an oxygen free environment (the treatment zone of a lagoon) and decomposes organic matter (waste). The result of this process creates something very valuable to the farmer — fertilizer! Those anaerobic bacteria do a great job of treating the waste and turning waste into useful nutrients that can be used as fertilizer.



Managing Lagoon Levels

Farmers must maintain a buffer of at least 19” between the top of the lagoon and the liquid storage. This space – called a freeboard – is designed to prevent the lagoon from overflowing.The lagoon system is built to effectively manage significant rainfall events. Maintaining a minimum freeboard level is specifically designed to handle 24 hours of rain during a 25-year storm – the largest storm that can be expected during a 25-year period based on historical record. If the freeboard level falls below 19 inches, the farm must immediately notify the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and submit an action plan to return to normal levels within 30 days.

Pink Lagoons?

Color is a good indicator of proper lagoon function. The pink tint often seen on hog lagoons means it is working as intended. Purple sulfur bacteria reduce the concentration hydrogen sulfide, a significant source of odor. In other words, pink reduces stink.


Anaerobic lagoons produce nitrogen which is a valuable fertilizer for farmers. Farmers must follow a detailed process to properly manage their lagoons. Here’s how it works:

The farmer samples the surface water of the lagoon and sends it off for analysis every 90 days.  The results from that analysis tell the farmer how much plant available nitrogen is contained in the lagoon’s temporary storage depth. The farmer then applies the nitrogen to crops based on guidelines set by the DEQ. State regulations also require farmers to keep detailed records of the nutrients applied.

To simplify, the process looks like this:

the cycle

the cycle

Ultimately, it is a sustainable cycle that allows pigs to fertilize crops like corn which then gets fed back to pigs in their feed ration.