It has been a decade since North Carolina banned pork farmers from building new hog waste lagoons. In that time, environmentalists have tracked the ponds' damage to rivers and land, and neighbors have complained about their overpowering stench.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- It has been a decade since North Carolina banned pork farmers from building new hog waste lagoons.
In that time, environmentalists have tracked the ponds' damage to rivers and land, and neighbors have complained about their overpowering stench. Scientists have proposed new ways to deal with the sewage, but none are revolutionary and swine producers have bridled at the cost.
With the lagoon moratorium set to expire in September, there are several proposals over what to do next. While one would simply extent the moratorium for another few years, most are aimed at resolving the debate once and for all.
"People are interested in helping us find solutions now," said Lamont Futrell, who leads a grass roots group of small swine farmers. "We're seeing the most interest ever in helping us solve this problem, and even helping turn it into something profitable."
North Carolina is second only to Iowa in hog farming, with US$6.7 billion (euro5 billion) in annual sales, 46,000 jobs, and 10 million animals that produce 13 million pounds of manure and urine each day.
The waste is typically flushed from barns into open-air lagoons, and later sprayed on fields as fertilizer. It is an easy, relatively inexpensive way to deal with the material, but the sewage has polluted waterways during floods. Neighbors are both angered by the smell and worried about potential health hazards.
The state began adopting stricter lagoon regulations in the early '90s. But a chain of spills -- starting in 1995, when 25 million gallons of sewage leaked into a river -- led lawmakers to ban construction of new lagoons in 1997, a "temporary" solution that has already been extended four times. The moratorium also has some loopholes, enough for the state's hog industry to expand by 500,000 swine in the past 10 years.
Last year, researchers at North Carolina State University offered five alternatives to handling the waste that -- while reducing ammonia and pathogen emissions -- are up to five times more expensive as a lagoon system.
"Some people felt that we might hit on a silver bullet," Futrell said. "We didn't find one."
But that research also provided a starting point for compromise.
Representative Carolyn Justice, a Republican, plans to introduce legislation soon that would effectively block most new lagoons, but also help swine farmers willing to experiment with other ways to treat hog waste pay for the new technology.
Justice said she deliberately avoided an outright ban, recognizing that lagoons are used in some of the new technologies -- most notably a proposal to capture methane gas for electricity generation.
"My belief is that one day the waste will be as valuable as the hogs, because they will find -- either by burning it, by using it as energy, by converting it to soil supplement -- that the waste that we've all hated so much becomes something of value," she said.
Source: Associated Press