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Pure Farms, Pure Water
GOAL: Eliminate the impacts of factory farms on our waterways and our communities.
CAFOs stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, commonly known as factory farms. These operations cram thousands of animals into warehouse style buildings, creating one of the greatest sources of water pollution in the country, endangering public health and putting family farmers out of business.
Under the Clean Water Act, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are defined as point sources of pollution requiring them to obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. NPDES permits may be issued by EPA or any state authorized by EPA to implement the NPDES program. Although North Carolina is authorized to issue NPDES permits, it has opted not to issue NPDES permits to poultry CAFOs. Rather, North Carolina has developed its own water quality-permitting program. NCDENR treats all dry waste poultry facilities as “non-discharging” and generally does not require either a state or a federal NPDES permit.
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH EFFECTS
The most pressing public health issue associated with CAFOs stems from the amount of manure they produce. It can contain plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, pathogens such as E. coli, growth hormones, antibiotics, chemicals used as additives to the manure or to clean equipment, animal blood, or silage lechate from corn feed.
Ground application of the manure is one of the most common disposal methods due to its low cost. When manure is applied too frequently or in too large a quantity to an area, nutrients overwhelm the absorptive capacity of the soil, and either run off or are leached into the groundwater. The excess production of manure and problems with storage or manure management can affect ground and surface water quality.
The agricultural sector, including CAFOs, is the leading contributor of pollutants to lakes, rivers, and resevoirs. Contamination in surface water can cause nitrates and other nutrients to build up. Ammonia is often found in surface waters surrounding CAFOs. Ammonia causes oxygen depletion from water, which itself can kill aquatic life. Ammonia also converts into nitrates which can cause nutrient overloads in surface waters. Nutrient over-enrichment causes algal blooms, or a rapid increase of algae growth in an aquatic environment. Some algal blooms can contain toxic algae and other microorganisms, including Pfiesteria, which has caused large fish kills in North Carolina.
YADKIN PEE DEE RIVER BASIN
In North Carolina, the Yadkin Pee Dee River basin supports about 1.6 million people, and over the next 25 years, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, that figure is expected to increase by fifty percent. Much of the anticipated growth will come from new development, as the state now ranks first in the nation in terms of projected economic expansion over the next quarter century.
Wilkes County is one of the largest producers of poultry in the Eastern United States, and many of the county's farmers are poultry farmers for Tyson Foods. According to Food and Water Watch, Wilkes County produced 12,484,993 “broiler” chickens in 2007 at three known CAFOs facilities. Wilkes County poultry farms are located within Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin and are discharging pollutants that are contributing to the impairment of the watershed. These facilities are virtually unregulated. According to FactoryFarmMap.org, factory-farmed broiler chickens in North Carolina has more than doubled from 34.7 million in 1997 to 79.7 million in 2007. The more than 12 million broiler chickens on factory farms in Wilkes County, NC produce as much untreated manure as the sewage from the Riverside, California metro area.
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