Nahunta Swamp pollution investigation continues

CAFOs, Environmental, Neuse River Watershed, Sound Rivers, Water Quality

Posted on July 27th, 2023

Sound Rivers' Water Quality Specialist Taylor Register collects water samples from a stream flowing from the White Oak Farms property.

Sound Rivers’ staff ventured back into Nahunta Swamp this week on the heels of a notice of violation issued to an Wayne County industrial hog facility for polluting surface and groundwater.

The notice from North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality came after a year-long investigation by Sound Rivers’ riverkeepers, which began when a hog-waste lagoon cover used to harness biogas ruptured, releasing millions of cubic feet of nutrient- and bacteria-laden “foam.” Some of that foam — a byproduct of the decomposition of hog waste, dead hogs and food waste such as hot dogs and deli meat — spilled into nearby Nahunta Swamp. Nahunta Swamp is a tributary of Contentnea Creek, which is a tributary of the Neuse River.

This week, Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop, Sound Rivers’ Water Quality Specialist Taylor Register and Program Director Clay Barber loaded up their kayaks with sampling gear to replicate sampling for DNA, nutrients, E. coli and fecal coliform done in March of this year and December of 2022.

“We are trying to get some more water-quality data to support what we have collected previously, and get a reference for how (water quality) is looking out there compared to March,” Taylor said. “We thought it was important to capture what might be going on to add to our own data.”

Water-sampling results in December 2022 and March indicated either previous efforts by White Oak Farms to clean up the decomposing waste were insufficient or there was a separate, ongoing pollution source coming from the facility. Sound Rivers shared its test results — extremely high levels of nitrogen, fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria in the surface water adjacent to and downstream of the facility, followed by DNA testing that revealed the source of fecal bacteria as hog — with NCDEQ’s Division of Water Resources, which began testing the water of Nahunta Swamp and an unnamed tributary of Nahunta Swamp on a weekly basis.

The result of DWR’s testing at the facility indicated the hog-waste lagoons are contaminating both groundwater and nearby surface water, and a notice of violation was issued last week, adding to a previously issued $34,520 fine for the spill itself.

On Wednesday, the Sound Rivers team took samples upstream of the facility as a reference point, then took water samples from two streams flowing directly into Nahunta Swamp from the facility’s property.

This midsummer trip was far more adventurous that previous ones: low water levels meant walking kayaks through the swamp, as opposed to paddling, and more fallen trees required hauling kayaks over or under the blockage — all of which led to an accidental dip in the swamp for one unfortunate Sound Rivers’ staffer …

Water Quality Specialist Taylor Register (left) and Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop (right) walk their kayaks through shallow water in Nahunta Swamp.

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