On my way home from Wilmington, NC following the Waterkeeper Alliance Conference, I decided to stop at the Lumber River State Park and hike along the banks. What a beautiful river it is and I cannot wait to go back and kayak it, so I can experience more of what this waterway has to offer. The Lumber River is one of North Carolina's four Natural and Scenic Rivers and 81 miles of the river is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River. The national designation means it is considered to have "outstandingly remarkable resources." In fact, the Lumber River Basin contains three animals on the Endangered species list, the yellow lampmussel, the Savannah liliput (another mussel), and the West Indian manatee.
The Lumber River is a black river with lots of tannin from decomposing vegetation. There are many interesting vantage points at the State Park, since its banks are graced by gnarly roots and graceful trees creating interesting reflections and compelling compositions.
There were several loblolly pines as well, which created an impressive canopy. These trees can grow up to 100 feet tall, so their very sturdy trunks are a necessity. The crevices in the bark are very deep and create interesting patterns.
The images that follow are of reflections I saw along the banks of the river punctuated by cypress knees, tree trunks, or floating leaves.
It was very meditate walking along the banks, and it felt like I was far away from civilization. Yet, human impact was evident here as well, as visitors are greeted right away by a sign announcing the impaired water quality.
The impaired water quality is due to an increase in human population as well as farms. The population in the region is expected to increase 30 percent by 2020 since the 2010 census. The sign warns of unhealthy levels of mercury in the water, which are primarily due to power plant and incinerator emissions but are also caused by household and medical waste. After I left the State Park, on the way back to the highway, I passed several CAFO's (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) that are major contributors to the issues this waterway is facing.
Here is one of the CAFO's I passed. I am not sure if it is a chicken coop or a hog farm. Unfortunately, they have both in the Lumber River watershed. This end of the buildings contains the fans that blow air through these torture chambers. I found it very ironic that they are so clean and freshly painted on the outside, as I know what they look like on the inside. The folks at the Waterkeeper Alliance gave me a very disturbing coffee table book called CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories. After seeing this book, I no longer eat chicken (I already didn't eat pork), unless I am certain it comes from a small family farm which are becoming rarer and rarer these days. The more I learn about farming in the United States, the more I am leaning towards becoming a Vegan from an ethical perspective and for health reasons.
The CAFO above was so shiny and perfect looking, especially with the golden field in front setting it off. One of the CAFO's I saw with Christine Ellis near Lake Waccamaw was located on a street named Grassy Lane Road. Other street names given for entry roads into CAFO's in North Carolina are Paradise Road or Miracle Bluff. The industry invests large sums of money to create an image of idyllic farms run by families when this is not at all the case. Smithfield and big companies in China own these operations. The local farmers who run them are responsible for cleaning up the waste, which they cannot afford due to the low profit margins they receive for their efforts. Waterkeepers monitor the drainage ditches when they can, but if the ditches are not close enough to the road and are on private property, their hands are tied and they can't sample.
The image above is of the Smithfield CAFO we visited near Lake Waccamaw. There was a long row of hog houses and then a series of hoses to spray the waste over the fields. Hogs produce 10 times as much waste as humans and with over 10 million hogs in the State of North Carolina that is a lot of waste. In fact, the hogs in North Carolina produce twice as much untreated manure as the sewage from the New York City metro area. These are pretty scary statistics for the waterways of North Carolina and for the health of the people living there.
These hoses are used to spray the hog waste on the fields to be used as fertilizer. The problem is that the waste gets airborne and if it is sprayed near a drenching storm, of which North Carolina has a lot, the waste finds its way into ditches and then into the waterways. Though there are laws banning the spraying of the hog waste within 72 hours of a tropical depression, hog farmers often spray anyway as they have too much waste to dispose of.
Another agricultural issue in North Carolina is the replacement of tobacco farms with cornfields. There has been an explosion of GMO corn in the United States, which is bred to withstand being blanketed by toxic chemicals such as glyphosate and other chemical herbicides. These chemicals make there way into drainage ditches in the watershed of our rivers and then into the rivers themselves. Glyphosate has been implicated in endocrine disorders in both fish and other riparian creatures as well as humans, with developing fetuses being at greatest risk. In 2010, North Carolina ranked ninth in the country for having the most polluted waterways.