Month: May 2023

No Wetlands, No Us!

Posted on

Three bills introduced this legislative session contained identical language that would eviscerate the state laws that protect wetlands. If enacted, the provision would diminish crucial services that wetlands provide all North Carolinians, including flood protection, water purification, and fisheries habitat.

One of the three bills that contained the language limiting state wetlands protections made legislative “crossover” (the Farm Bill). The others did not get passed by the Senate by the deadline, so they will not be considered by the House. Keep in mind that provisions from those other two bills can get tacked onto the budget bill, which isn’t subject to the same deadline.

The North Carolina State Constitution requires the state government to protect the state’s lands and waters for the benefit of all North Carolinians, and it specifically includes wetlands as among the state’s significant resources that must be preserved. Current state laws do that.

Valuable wetlands in North Carolina would be destroyed under the proposed provision to redefine state wetlands as including only those wetlands that meet the federal definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. North Carolinians would lose flood protection and other crucial services provided by the many state wetlands that don’t meet the federal definition.

Most applicants seeking permits in North Carolina to develop land that contains wetlands get their permits. Current laws simply require them to take steps to avoid or mitigate the harm caused by their projects in terms of lost wetlands, increased flooding, etc. It is only fair to require landowners to take responsibility when their actions on their own land harm their community and put at risk others downstream.

The federal Clean Water Act focuses on eliminating pollution and restoring the “chemical, physical, and biological integrity” of “navigable waters,” which are defined as “waters of the United States,” and has never protected all wetlands from all threats.

The federal definition of “waters of the United States” expands at times to include more categories of waters and contracts at other times to include far fewer. Wetlands have historically been among the first type of waters to lose protection under federal law.

In contrast, current state laws protect all wetlands within the state and therefore provide continuity and full coverage by filling the fluctuating gap left by the ever-changing federal definition.

Current state protections provide much-needed protection from flooding. Wetlands act like sponges, absorbing water to help protect nearby and downstream communities by slowing and lowering floodwaters – a potentially lifesaving combination, especially after storms. A single acre of wetlands can store almost one million gallons of water, providing benefits both in place and for flood-prone communities downstream.

To pass a law that endangers wetlands at a time when flooding is on the rise and clean drinking water is in short supply would be irresponsible and threatens North Carolina’s communities. In recent years, floods have caused massive property damage and loss, loss of life, and business interruptions in communities near rivers. Flooding associated with storms like Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 caused particularly devastating flooding in eastern

North Carolina, but communities have also experienced devastating flooding after just a few days of rain, like Kinston did in 2017. Buildings constructed on wetlands are prone to water damage as well. Protecting all wetlands helps minimize these harms and protect communities.

In late 2021, the General Assembly passed a law to promote flood resiliency planning and set aside tens of millions of dollars to help local governments prepare for and recover from floods. To pass a law that rolls back state wetland protections and exacerbates the flooding problems that the 2021 law devotes millions to fixing would be reckless and waste government resources.

Wetlands also provide other crucial services for all North Carolinians. They filter and clean drinking water and allow water to slowly infiltrate into the ground to replenish aquifers.

As we say along the coast, “No wetlands, no seafood.” Wetlands are critical to protecting water, fish, and shellfish for our valuable commercial and recreational fisheries. North Carolina’s wild- caught seafood industry contributes nearly $300 million in value and 5,500 jobs to the state’s economy. David Sneed of the CCA also mentioned that there is a “3 billion dollar recreational fishing industry” that will be impacted as well.

Wetlands are home to waterfowl and other wildlife that draw tourists and hunters from across North Carolina and the country. The economic benefits of hunting and fishing are especially pronounced in rural areas, where money brought in during fishing and hunting seasons can keep small businesses operational for the entire year.

The fluctuating federal protections often do not extend to categories of valuable and unique wetlands present in North Carolina, such as Carolina bays, pocosins, cypress savannas, and other geographically isolated wetlands, found in Bladen, Robeson, Columbus, and Brunswick counties, among others. For example, under the 2020 federal rule defining the scope of Clean Water Act, over 500,000 acres of wetlands in the Cape Fear Watershed alone were excluded from federal protection.

Geographically isolated wetlands have been protected by the state since at least 2001. In 2014 and 2015, the General Assembly further solidified state protections by passing two laws that mandated preservation of ecologically significant “isolated wetlands” that are not protected under federal law. To pass a contrary law now, just a few years later, that strips protections from those important natural resources makes no sense and creates a sense of whiplash for those who are subject to the laws.

Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. An interagency work group identified the Cape Fear watershed in eastern North Carolina as experiencing one of the highest rates of wetland loss in the nation. The state cannot afford to lose even more wetlands due to ill-advised legislation.


Three bills (the Farm Bill (S582); the Regulatory Reform Bill (S686), and the Environmental Permitting Reforms Bill (S744), all contain almost the exact same language. The language of S582, § 15
CCRW has reported (to NCDEQ DEMLR, Wilmington Regional Office) aerial photos taken near Stones Bay in Snead’s Ferry before and after rain during the week of April 13th, 2023. These photos show a visual representation of sediment release into the estuarine creeks that lead into the New River (Onslow County).

Click here to see photos documenting sediment runoff from the cleared land running into the adjacent creek and into Stones Bay (SOURCE: A.JONES 2023)

The impacted areas, of and adjacent-to the lower New River, include primary and special secondary nursery areas, estuarine shrub wetlands, bottomland hardwood wetlands, salt/brackish marsh wetlands, and is an area where there are both patchy and continuous areas of Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAVs). This is also the same area impacted by the 2022 Harmful Algae Bloom event.

Protecting these specific areas of our coastal habitat are highlighted in the 2021 CHPP Amendment, which is focused on priority solutions including “reducing sedimentation impacts in estuarine creeks”. Sedimentation, and the following degradation of water clarity, are a primary concern for SAV loss. Click here for more information and a map of the area.

The local aquaculture farmers, recreational and commercial fishers, and those that have enjoyed this area for generations, need protection from the impacts we are seeing in the New River. Current State stormwater regulations and enforcement efforts are just not enough to protect these critical areas of coastal waters and habitat.” – Lisa Rider, Executive Director

CCRW staff members have been hearing that there are not enough enforcement staff (DEQ DEMLR) to keep up with the development demand. The lack of properly funding the enforcement of current regulations leaves a lot of un-noticed concerns unchecked and coastal NC vulnerable to increased shellfish closures, loss of SAVs, and impaired waters.

CCRW hopes to work with local governments on facilitating meetings with the purpose of protecting these communities through the development of stronger permit requirements for developers and incentives for nature-based solutions that can effectively prevent stormwater pollution. If you are interested in being a part of this process, please contact Waterkeeper

We Need You!

Take action in your community. Join our team of local coastal advocates.

We Need Your Help!
Please Support our Work Today
Click here to Become a Member or Renew your Membership

Swim Safe this Summer

Check Local Bacteria Levels Click the Link Below


Please consider being a part of the Waterkeeper Admiral Club with your sustaining donation of $1,000 or more.

Your donation goes directly to programming that protects the quality of water and quality of life in coastal North Carolina.


Business Members


Business Members


Business Members

Become a Business Member Today!
Coastal Carolina Riverwatch

Email not displaying correctly?

View it in your browser


Facebook Twitter Instagram

Pure Farms Pure Waters

Posted on


Pure Farms Pure Waters

CAFO permit renewals and new CCRW project

NC Swine, Poultry and Digester Waste Management General Permits that up for renewal in 2024.

Swine, Poultry, and Digester General Permit Renewal

NC Swine, Poultry and Digester Waste Management General Permits are up for revisions this year. This is an opportunity for State to receive feedback on the current permits, make changes, and can result in different protections for water quality from 2024 through 2029.

For the 2024 renewals, The Division of Environmental Quality is leading a public engagement process with multiple opportunities for the public to provide input on the review and revision of the General Permits. Division staff state that they will consider stakeholder input while staying within state statutes and assess room for movement within the rules and their authority to address concerns brought up.

On Wednesday, CCRW’s White Oak Waterkeeper, Riley, attended one of these DEQ “Technical Stakeholder Meetings” in Raleigh. Riley was joined by other environmental organizations, social justice groups, State agriculture industry representatives, academic researchers, community representatives and NC Department of Agriculture lobbyists. During the meeting, all attendees had the chance to write down concerns and suggestions for DEQ. This was facilitated by leave sticky notes around the room for every section of the current permits and speaking with DEQ staff and other stakeholder attendees. The meeting allowed individual and group collaboration to develop specific technical comments that the general public may not have the background to comment on.

During the technical meeting, our comments to DEQ centered around:
(1) Stop harming North Carolina’s most vulnerable communities that are constantly exposed to animal waste.
(2) Require better reporting of waste use and water contamination to ensure permit compliance and public transparency.
(3) Impose stricter requirements for monitoring of hog waste impacts so that damage to communities and water can be minimized.
(4) Require that safer technology be used to dispose of hog waste, including non sprayfield methods and automatic rain shutoffs to prevent overflow of lagoons and spraying on wet fields.

“It’s hard to gauge what changes will be made to these permits. During the meeting I felt like DEQ staff were listening and engaging with what I was saying but their take aways at the end of the day didn’t align with what many of us were saying. Hopefully our concerns will be shared by the pubic in future input sessions and the State will realize how much we need water quality protections.”

– Riley Lewis, White Oak Waterkeeper

Most of the state’s 2,200 industrial hog operations rely on a primitive system to manage hog waste that involves storing untreated urine and feces in unlined pits and spraying the waste on nearby fields. This system, called the lagoon and sprayfield system, causes devastating water and air pollution; nearby families get sick and die at higher rates than people living farther away. These operations disproportionately cause harm to Black, Latino, Native American, and low-wealth rural communities. The state’s swine “general permit” regulates how animal operations manage billions of gallons of animal waste at industrial animal operations; the general permit allows these operations to use the lagoon and sprayfield system.

PHOTO: DIAZ. Attendees of last week’s Technical Stakeholder Meeting. Pictured are representatives from Southern Environmental Law Center, NC Environmental Justice Network, Waterkeeper organizations, NC Conservation Network and Toxic Free NC.
The stakeholder process will continue throughout the summer and will include a public input session and comment period that will be considered in the development of the draft 2024 general permits. The release of the drafts will be followed by a public process including public meetings and a 90-day comment period. Information on the stakeholder sessions, public meetings and public engagement are detailed below and DEQ will be updating this as events are scheduled.

North Carolinians have a chance to tell the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to update the general permits for the state’s industrial animal operations so that they will better protect our health, rivers, and drinking water. DEQ is conducting a “stakeholder” process including a public meeting on May 9 and the opportunity to submit comments by phone, email, or mail until June 5.

The public meeting on Tuesday May 9th will not be a standard podium 3 minute statement format. Instead there will be self guided stations around a room that will allow for the public to interact with a DEQ staffer and share comments. Stations will be grouped into “monitoring”, “community impacts”, “biogas” (digesters), “info sharing”, “operations and maintenance”, and “other.” On the top of the hour, every hour, DEQ will give a presentation on the permits.

We encourage YOU to attend the meeting on Tuesday or submit your comments over the phone or email!

You do not need technical understanding to share your concern for water quality and your neighbors. The excessive animal waste that is produced in these facilities and the use of archaic waste lagoons are damaging the land, water, and people all over the state. If the industry isn’t reigned in, our lands will become unable to grow food, our waters will be unsafe to eat and drink from, and our neighbors will endure hardships caused by poor health.

DEQ next steps for the Waste Management General Permits.

New Pure Farms Pure Waters Project

CCRW is excited to announce a new Pure Farms Pure Waters project! This project will be in conjunction with our Water Quality for Fisheries program and will assess bacteria levels throughout the New River, use DNA to track the sources of this bacteria pollution, outreach into impacted communities, and report observed CAFO violations to the state.

In 2021, the CCRW WQ4F project was developed through collaboration with the coastal commercial and recreational fishing community, water quality researchers, and coastal water quality advocacy organizations as a result of an outcry of concern for water quality impacts that are having a direct impact on marine fisheries and marine ecosystems. Industrial Agriculture and Factory Farming (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – CAFOs) are the number one water quality impact to fisheries according to those who fish on the NC coast. (Survey Results Identifying Water Quality Concerns Prioritized by Coastal Fishing Representatives: Carolina_Riverwatch_Summary_Report#1)

Our goal for this PFPW-WQ4F expansion is to assess the extent of hog waste pollution in both impaired waters and waters being used for fishing (recreational, commercial, and subsistence fishing), improve outreach to impacted and military communities, and increase poultry transparency in North Carolina.

If you are interested in volunteering with CCRW please reach out!

We are always looking for community advocates who are interested in visiting impacted communities, developing social media content, providing a hand with field work, and have an eye for editing!

There is always work to be done and the Staff and Board of CCRW appreciate your support for our mission. Water quality impacts us all and we can’t do what we do without you being extra eyes, ears, and voices in your community.
Report a Water Quality Concern

Business Members


Business Members


Business Members

Become a Business Member Today!
Coastal Carolina Riverwatch

Email not displaying correctly?

View it in your browser


Facebook Twitter Instagram