A hog lagoon in eastern North Carolina surrounded by floodwaters.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is taking public comment on proposed changes to state hog farm permits. 

It’s the second round of input on the state’s swine waste management system general permit. Comments on the current draft are being accepted until December 21. The general permit is updated every five years.

The draft includes more requirements for soil and groundwater monitoring, addresses how farmers should dispose of dead pigs, and requires that certain measures be taken in the event of potential waste runoff or leaks. The proposed changes do not do away with the lagoon-and-spray field waste-disposal system opposed by environmental advocates in which hog waste is stored in open-air pits, liquefied, and sprayed onto nearby fields.

As the INDY reported in a three-part investigative series on North Carolina’s hog industry, environmentally sustainable ways to manage hog waste were identified via a $17 million research agreement between hog producers and the state eighteen years ago, but have largely gone unused.

The draft permit stipulates that inspections may happen “at any time, without announcement.”

Under the proposals, permit holders may be required to put in place equipment that would “reduce drift potential” when waste is sprayed onto fields and would have to install devices to automatically shut off spray-field systems when it rains. This issue is at the heart of a series of lawsuits by neighbors of Murphy Brown hog farms who say the waste is making its way to their homes and the stench is reducing their quality of life. The draft also prohibits “excessive ponding or any runoff” when waste is being sprayed.

Farmers would be required to keep daily records of animal deaths and map burial locations along with setbacks from surface waters, wells, and property lines. Groundwater monitoring may be required around those sites.

At least fifty-five hundred pigs were killed by Hurricane Florence. Amid the storm’s record inland flooding, at least three hog waste lagoons were breached, two more may have suffered structural damage, twenty-one lagoons were inundated by floodwaters, and seventeen lagoons overflowed.

Permit holders would be required to conduct soil testing more often, monitor groundwater whenever there is evidence of contamination, and take waste samples sooner after waste is discharged into surface waters or wetlands. The draft would put in place more specific directions for alerting the public to waste discharges, and would make annual certification reports available for public review upon request.

According to NC Policy Watch, many farmers and the hog industry oppose the draft changes.

Comments on the draft can be submitted by email to swinepermit.comments@ncdenr.gov with the subject line “Swine General Permit” or mailed to DWR Animal Operations, Attn: Swine General Permit, 1636 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1636.