Industrial hog farms will have to follow new state guidelines issued Friday that are intended to better protect water from pollutants and neighbors from blowing pig waste.
The new guidelines also include strategies that will improve efficiency for farmers, NC Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan said.
“We recognize agriculture is a very important industry in North Carolina and the protection of public health is equally as important,” Regan said in an interview.
The new rules come in the form of a permit the state Department of Environmental Quality revises every five years with requirements for hog farm operations with 250 or more swine that use pits and spray fields to store and treat waste. The permit is effective from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2024.
“What we wanted to do was strengthen it in a way so it supported the protection of public health and would be more efficient and effective for the farmers,” Regan said.
This revision comes against the backdrop of a series of nuisance trials in federal court against pork producers. Last year, the state settled a civil rights complaint filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over health problems in minority communities near large hog farms.
Requirements in the permit include installation of monitoring wells around waste pits, called lagoons, that are in the 100-year floodplain. Regan said 50 to 60 farms, out of the more than 2,100 covered by the permit, have lagoons in the 100-year floodplain.
The NC Sierra Club, in a news release, said the monitoring wells are the permit’s “most significant positive change.”
“It’s also the first time the state has required groundwater monitoring of an animal waste system,” the Sierra Club said. “Data from the groundwater monitoring will be available to the public.”
Gov. Roy Cooper included $125,000 in his proposed budget to help farmers cover up to half the cost of installing monitoring wells .
“These monitoring wells will alert both the farmer and the Department of Environmental Quality to any potential groundwater problems that may result from the lagoons,” Regan said.
The permit was designed to consider how lagoons could be better managed with the increased intensity of storms hitting the state, Regan said.
Farmers would be prohibited from spraying waste on fields when wind conditions will cause or be reasonably expected to cause the waste to cross property lines. The state can require farms, if needed, to use equipment that reduces drift of waste spray.
NC Pork Council CEO Andy Curliss said Friday its task force has not reviewed the permit. “It’s too early to make any comment,” he said.
Environmental groups faulted the permit for not addressing nuisance and health concerns raised by the farms’ neighbors.
Will Hendrick, staff attorney with the Waterkeeper Alliance, said the permit changes did not consider the greater impacts hog farms have on minority communities. The Waterkeeper Alliance was one of the groups that filed the civil rights complaint against DEQ.
“They did make some changes,” Hendrick said. “The changes that were made were incremental, overdue changes to a system that needs fundamental change.”
Regan said DEQ met with stakeholders from both sides before preparing the draft permit. The department held public hearings and solicited public comments.
“We were very open to the public as we began to bring this permit up to date,” he said.