06/09/04 — Another study says hog farming not hurting rivers

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Another study says hog farming not hurting rivers

By Wire
Published in News on June 9, 2004 2:08 PM

RALEIGH -- A hog farming group said Tuesday that its study of state data culled over 32 years shows water quality in eastern North Carolina largely remained stable or improved even as hog farming expanded.

The study provides "untainted" data that will benefit lawmakers, environmentalists and the state economy, says Frontline Farmers Inc., a nonprofit group composed of more than 150 hog producers that paid $30,000 for the study.

Although hog producers paid for the study, they touted the fact that it was prepared by a University of Kentucky professor.

"It's not a study done by the industry or environmentalists," Chuck Stokes, a hog farmer in Greene County and member of the group, said at a news conference.

According to the report by Dwayne Edwards, a professor in the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department at the school in Lexington, Ky., pollution appeared to be "generally independent of hog populations and any detectable trends were usually in the decreasing direction, even downstream, of counties with very high hog densities."

Environmental officials questioned the report. The state Department of Environmental and Natural Resources said that while pollution in larger waterways has decreased, its monitoring results that were cited in the study do not routinely track smaller creeks and streams, which may carry pollution from hog farming.

"The ambient monitoring network is not really designed to ... point to specifics in small tributaries where impacts would occur," said Susan Massengale, spokesman for the department's Division of Water Quality.

The industry has been under fire since hog lagoons flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd in 1999, capping years of conflict over the pits that hold liquid waste that is later sprayed on fields.

Last year, the Legislature extended a moratorium on new and expanding swine operations to 2007, while researchers examine alternatives to lagoons.

The study looked at state data from 1970-2002 and focused on the Cape Fear, Neuse, Tar-Pamlico and White Oak River basins. The study evaluated seven factors that the group said are considered main indicators of livestock pollution, including fecal coliform and ammonia nitrogen.

It found 46 percent of all sampling stations showed "a trend toward improving water quality." Twenty-three percent of samples showed stable water quality while 5 percent revealed deteriorating water quality. Growth in urban areas may have contributed to the latter findings, the report said. The remaining 26 percent was unaccounted for because of inconsistent state data, Stokes said.

Mike Mallin, a research professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, had not seen the Frontline report, but he still maintains that the industry continues to be a source of waterway pollution.

Mallin, who also serves as also chief scientist for the Lower Cape Fear River Program, said the group -- a coalition of government, recreation, business and environmental representatives -- has been studying the river system for eight years.

"What we're seeing now is the first statistically sound evidence that ammonia is increasing in these rivers that are draining swine production areas," he said.

But the Frontline Farmers study is not the first to question whether hog farming has hurt the rivers.

State water-monitoring data over the last 20 years was reviewed by the Center for Global Food Issues for the Cape Fear River Assembly. This study showed that nutrients in the Cape Fear tributaries had not increased during the expansion of the swine industry in Sampson and Duplin counties.

Another study by Duke University researchers showed similar results in the lower Neuse River.