NCSU Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology

“The Orton Foundation has made it possible for me to help Riverkeepers and Waterkeeper Alliance succeed in their important efforts to combat major water quality degradation from confined animal feed operations (CAFOs) in the lower Cape Fear River basin. The terrific people in The Orton Foundation care deeply about our nation’s public trust waters, and they translate that caring into highly effective actions that strengthen protection of rivers and estuaries for all Americans.” JoAnn Burkholder, Director, NCSU Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology

The Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology provides water quality research information needed by policy makers to augment regulatory and non-regulatory programs aimed at optimizing management and wise use of water resources from the perspective of protecting fish and human health.

The Center’s specific objectives are to conduct relevant applied research on freshwater, estuarine and marine resources of the State; to provide training and support opportunities for advanced undergraduate students, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows; to develop information databases that will contribute to environmental education and education outreach about the interdependence between ecosystem functions and natural resource management; and to serve as a focal point for the continuing advancement of research on toxic algae.

Louis Bacon and The Orton Foundation support the Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology specifically in its work to provide state-certified water quality analyses of samples collected in the lower Cape Fear River basin, where industrialized swine production adds roughly the equivalent amount of waste, every year, as about 15 million people. The Center has also provided scientific interpretations of the data for Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance colleagues, and presentations of the data at various public forums to advance citizens’ understanding about this serious threat to human health as well as natural resources. With these data, the Center has documented that alarming levels of nutrients and fecal bacteria are common in streams, rivers, and estuaries of the lower Cape Fear due to contamination by swine and poultry wastes.

The information from these projects is increasingly important to Riverkeepers’ and Waterkeeper Alliance’s efforts because it fills a critical evidence gap. Over the past five years the state has radically downsized the environmental agency, indefinitely suspended monitoring to track water quality, and weakened or eliminated many laws that once provided water quality protection. The lower Cape Fear River and Estuary continue to sustain major pollution from industrialized swine and poultry production, and that pollution is now mostly undocumented by the state government. The data from the NCSU Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology provides much-needed evidence for Riverkeepers and Waterkeeper Alliance to prove in court that extreme water quality degradation in violation of the Clean Water Act is routinely caused by industrialized animal agriculture in the lower Cape Fear basin.

A second recent major effort directly supported by The Orton Foundation involved assisting Waterkeeper Alliance and EarthJustice in reviewing the previous and draft permits given by the state environmental agency for swine production. The Center’s review explained in detail the known published, peer-reviewed scientific studies documenting extreme impacts from the pollution from this industry on air quality, soils, groundwater, and surface waters. Using peer-reviewed scientific information, the Center was able to evaluate the major human health threat of this industry for people who live near swine CAFOs. Experts concluded that the permits allow swine CAFOs to release major amounts of pollution containing microbes that can cause serious disease in humans, while affording little or no protection for the people living near the operations. Most of these people are poor African Americans and Hispanics.

This evaluation was submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by Waterkeeper Alliance and EarthJustice, in support of their premise that the state’s permits for industrialized swine operations violate the Civil Rights Act. After four months, the U.S. EPA recently released its decision to allow the case to move forward, and important step in the right direction for rivers and communities impacted by the swine industry throughout the nation.


Learn more about the NCSU Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology here.