5 things you didn’t know about the NC Swine General Permit

The North Carolina Swine General Permit is an important tool for protecting public health and the environment in North Carolina and is required for any farm that has more than 250 pigs and isn’t already covered by a federal (NPDES) or individual permit. It is one of the most comprehensive and stringent swine waste management permits in the country, and it helps to ensure that hog farms are operated in a safe and responsible manner. Every five years, this permit is re-evaluated and renewed by the NC Department of Environmental Quality. The permit is up for renewal in 2024, so DEQ is in the process of reviewing the last permit and evaluating what may need to be changed. This is a lengthy process, with plenty opportunities for public input. The new permit will go into effect Oct. 1, 2024.

Here are five facts about the swine general permit.

  1. The state Swine General Permit is a NON-discharge permit. Meaning that no waste from the permitted farm can reach surface waters or wetlands. (This is more stringent than rules for human waste water treatment plants that can discharge waste into public waterways under certain conditions.)
    • “Any discharge of waste that reaches surface waters or wetlands is prohibited… Waste shall not reach surface waters or wetlands by runoff, drift, manmade conveyance, direct application, direct discharge or through ditches, terraces, or grassed waterways not otherwise classified as state waters. The waste collection, treatment, storage and application system operated under this General Permit shall be effectively maintained and operated as a non-discharge system to prevent the discharge of pollutants to surface waters or wetlands.” [Section I:1]
  2. The state permits requires annual inspections of every facility. These inspections are conducted by DEQ. When a DEQ inspector visits a hog farm for inspection, s/he reviews all the paperwork and recordkeeping for the lagoon and spray field. The inspector also makes a visual inspection and can fine farmers for being out of compliance. Inspectors may also make surprise inspections if a complaint is made about a property or there is other evidence of maleficence.
    • The Permittee is subject to inspections at any time, without announcement, by the Department. The Permittee shall allow any authorized representative of the Department, upon the presentation of credentials and other documents as may be required by law and in accordance with reasonable and appropriate biosecurity measures, to:
      a. Enter the Permittee’s premises where a regulated facility or activity is located or conducted, or where records must be kept under the conditions of this General Permit;
      b. Have access to and copy, at reasonable times, any records that must be kept under the conditions of this General Permit;
      c. Inspect, at reasonable times any facilities, equipment (including monitoring and control equipment), practices, or operations regulated or required under this General Permit; and,
      d. Sample or monitor, at reasonable times, for the purpose of assuring permit compliance, any substances or parameters at any location. [Section IV:1]
  3. The permit requires A LOT of recordkeeping. See the binder in the above picture of all the categories that must be tracked as part of each Certified Animal Waste Management Plan (CAWMP). Some requirements are annual, some are monthly and some are by occurrence.
    • Section III of the permit discusses the Monitoring and Reporting Requirements. This section is 5 pages long.
  4. The permit requires that lagoons be able to withstand a 25 year/24-hour storm event plus one extra foot of freeboard. However, farmers manage the lagoon to be able to withstand much more significant storms. As a matter of fact, since these standards were put into place, the state has seen multiple 500-year storm events. During Florence, the most recent 1,000-year storm event, 98% of lagoon had no issues. Many of the others were inundated by floodwaters.
    • The maximum waste level in lagoons/storage ponds shall not exceed that specified in the facility’s CAWMP. At a minimum, maximum waste level for lagoons/storage ponds must not exceed the level that provides adequate storage to contain the 25-year, 24-hour storm event plus an additional one (1) foot of structural freeboard except that there shall be no violation of this condition if:
      a. there is a storm event more severe than a 25-year, 24-hour event; 
      b. the Permittee is in compliance with its CAWMP; and
      c. there is at least one (1) foot of structural freeboard. 
      Farms with lagoon and storage pond designs completed after September 1, 1996, storage must also be provided for the heavy rainfall factor (NC NRCS Standard 359) for the lagoons/storage pond. In case of lagoons/storage ponds in series that are gravity fed, the 25-year, 24-hour storm event and/or the heavy rainfall factor storage requirement for the system may be designed into the lowest lagoon/storage pond in the system. However, adequate freeboard must be designed into the upper lagoons/storage ponds to allow sufficient storage to prevent the waste level from rising into the structural freeboard while the storm water is draining into the lowest structure in the system. [Section V:2]
  5. The permit requires that swine waste be managed in a way that protects public health and the environment. This includes requirements for lagoon design, construction, and operation; land application of manure; and groundwater monitoring. It includes provisions for siting setbacks from property boundaries and perennial streams, as well as requirements for land application of manure. For example, farmers must take lagoon samples and have it analyzed for what nutrients it has and match it to soil tests to ensure that the soil can handle the amount of nutrients being applied an no runoff is occurring. In addition, each farm must also have a designated Operator In Charge who is responsible for all waste management. The OIC must take a class, pass a test and receive continuing education to maintain the license. The permit sets performance standards for new farms that include waste management, operation and maintenance, monitoring and reporting, inspections, and penalties. The standards are so stringent that there hasn’t been a new farm built since 1997. Barns can be renovated, but can only house as many pigs as the original lagoon allows.
    • The Permittee shall designate a certified animal waste management system operator with a valid certification to be in charge of the animal waste management system. The waste management system shall be operated by the Operator in Charge (OIC) or a person under the OIC’s supervision. -[G.S. §90A-. The OIC, a designated Back-up OIC of a Type A Animal Waste Management System, or a person under the supervision of an OIC or designated Back-up OIC shall inspect the land application site as often as necessary to ensure that the animal waste is land applied in accordance with the CAWMP. In no case shall the time between inspections be more than 120 minutes during the application of waste. A record of each inspection shall be recorded on forms supplied by, or approved by, the Division and shall include the date, time, land application area used, and name of the operator for each inspection. If neither the OIC or designated Back-up OIC was present during land application, then the OIC or designated Back-up OIC shall inspect the land application area within twenty-four (24) hours. Inspection shall include but not be limited to visual observation of application equipment, land application area, subsurface drain outlets, ditches, and drainage ways for any discharge of waste. [Section II:17