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Heavy Rains Cause Officials To Revisit Hog Lagoon Debate

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NEW BERN, N.C. — This spring's heavy rains are once again fueling the debate over hog lagoons. An environmental group based in New Bern says the waste collection ponds are not handling the extra water well. Farmers say they need proof that other methods will work before they can change.

For a couple of months, environmentalist Rick Dove has spent a lot of time in the air watching hog farms.

"I haven't seen anything like this since the spring planting season after Floyd," said Rick Dove, of the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Dove said the biggest problem he has found is farmers spraying waste from hog lagoons onto wet fields, which is against the rules. For some farmers, illegal spraying is a tempting alternative to the risk of an overflowing pond.

"The answer is the system is broken. It must be replaced and North Carolina is working at a snail's pace in making good its commitment to get rid of lagoons and spray fields," Dove said.

Back in 2000, Gov. Mike Easley promised to get rid of the state's 4,000 lagoons in five years. So far, officials said that number has only been dented. One main reason, scientists are still trying to find a better way to handle the waste.

Some farmers, like Chuck Stokes, said they would be happy to change when the time comes.

"Our main concern is that we're not mandated into yet another system that the general public, the environmental community is not satisfied with," he said.

Stokes is part of a new organization called Front Line. The group believes farmers and environmental groups can work together to protect waterways and the industry.

"We've actually joined hands with them in an effort to identify technologies other than a lagoon or spray field," he said.

That technology is still a few years away. Until then, both sides are discouraging this kind of behavior.


state Division of Water Quality

followed up on some of the farms Dove videotaped, but the agency did not have the manpower to reach all of them quickly. Stokes' farm was not on Dove's videotape.


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