With Hurricane Isabel predicted to arrive over Eastern North Carolina within a matter of hours, a large percentage of industrial hog producers began massively pumping toxic hog waste onto their fields. Considering the extensive size of this storm, with up to ten inches of rain in its forecast, runoff was a virtual certainty.
On the afternoon of September 16, 2003, local weathermen were stating that Eastern North Carolina would begin receiving the leading edge of Hurricane Isabel about noon on the 17th. By the following day, Thursday, the full force of the storm was due to impact nearly all of Eastern NC.
With that in mind, I took to the skies over Jones, Duplin, Sampson and Craven Counties. My objective was to see if any of the hog producers might be spraying hog waste with Isabel on her way.
I was not surprised by what I saw. In the past, I have made many flights in advance of bad storms and have always found the hog sprayers going in force. This day was no exception. Of the 77 hog facilities observed, 56 were spraying. Many of those who were spraying did not appear to have the need to do so. Their lagoons appeared to be well below the maximum freeboard requirements.
With all the rain we have had over the past 8 months, it is my opinion that there is no justification for these low lagoons levels. Simply put, we have had too much rain and resulting crop failures for that amount of waste to be applied at agronomical rates. If hog waste is not applied at agronomical rates as required by waste management plans, its discharge to the environment is presumed.
Regardless of how the lagoons got to be so low, why would any industrial hog producer be applying hog waste to fields knowing that in just a few short hours the blinding wind and rain from a massive hurricane would be overhead? Where do these producers (72 % of those observed) think that waste will be after the storm?
Not surprisingly, traditional crop farmers were not observed applying fertilizer to their fields. These farmers would not knowingly risk wasting their hard earned money by applying nutrients to fields in a manner that would likely result in their being washed down the river with Isabel's runoff.
Here are a few of the pictures taken on the afternoon of September 16, 2003
Ponded hog waste awaits Isabel's arrival
Hog waste ponded everywhere
This one needs no explanation
Freeboard levels pictured here appear to be low
As predicted, the leading edge of Hurricane Isabel began creeping into North Carolina during the early afternoon of Wednesday, September 17, 2003. By noon on the following day, the storm's full fury impacted North Carolina's coast near Cape Lookout. From there, it moved across the Neuse River, and then quickly exited into Virginia and Maryland.
Isabel's tidal surge caused immense damage along the North Carolina's outer banks and Neuse River. The flooding from this surge caused millions of dollars in losses by destroying and heavily damaging many homes and businesses, downing power lines and trees, cutting off communications and stranding countless people. Fortunately, by the time Isabel made landfall, her winds were reduced to 100 miles per hour and her rapid movement through one of the least populated areas of the state helped minimize losses. As it turned out, people living in Virginia and Maryland would not be so lucky.
Rainfall totals from Hurricane Isabel varied across North Carolina's coastal plain from 1 to 8 inches. Much of the area received 3-5 inches. Unlike Floyd and other recent hurricanes that have struck Eastern North Carolina, Isabel did not cause extensive flooding in the inland areas of the coastal plain. This is because of her rapid movement.
AFTER THE STORM
All areas where massive spraying of hog waste occurred just prior to the arrival of Hurricane Isabel received rain. In some of these areas the rainfall was heavy, ranging from 3 to 5 inches. Fortunately, other areas received much less. Overall, runoff was widespread. The circumstances clearly point to a substantial discharge of the hog waste that was sprayed and ponded on the heavily ditched fields just prior to Isabel's arrival.
To be certain, as far as rain and the flooding of hog lagoons and sprayfields are concerned, Isabel was very different from Floyd. Nevertheless, it is my firm opinion that substantial pollution of our wetlands, streams, creeks and rivers did occur as a result of hog waste that was placed directly in Isabel's path. A few of the flooded fields observed during a flight on afternoon of Friday, September 19, 2003, are set forth below.