Cape Fear River Watch: Advocating for a Bright Future for North Carolina’s Largest Watershed

“Support from the Orton Foundation allows Cape Fear River Watch to aggressively fight pollution associated with unsustainable factory farms throughout the watershed. This work is improving the Cape Fear River for all North Carolinians; strengthening our environment, our economy, and our quality of life”  – Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper

In this month of March Madness (Go Tar Heels!), as we play out our #MooreRivers and #MooreWaters focus, let’s circle back to The Cape Fear River.

The Cape Fear River system is the largest in North Carolina: it encompasses a 9,000-square-mile basin that includes streams flowing within 29 of the state’s 100 counties. With Greensboro, Burlington, Chapel Hill, Sanford, Fayetteville, Dunn, Clinton, Warsaw, Burgaw, Wilmington and many other municipalities situated within its boundaries, its basin has become one of the most industrialized regions in North Carolina: nearly a third of the state’s population rely on the river and its tributaries for freshwater, transportation, recreation, natural habitats for abundant wildlife species, and other uses. The Cape Fear Estuary—a 35-mile section of the river between Wilmington and the Atlantic Ocean, part of which forms a section of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, features saline waters critical to habitats and breeding grounds for many animals, including fish, crabs, and shrimp.

With all of these pressures, and so much at stake, Louis Bacon and The Moore Charitable Foundation’s North Carolinian affiliate The Orton Foundation are very grateful that one organization in particular acts as a watchdog and advocate for this mighty but stressed river. Gumboots on the ground and in concert with partners such as the Southern Environmental Law Center and the NC Coastal Federation, Cape Fear River Watch (CFRW) loves this body of water perhaps more than any of us. Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette is at the helm.

A member of Waterkeeper Alliance, CFRW’s mandate is as follows:

  • Education. CFRW organizes environmental seminars covering issues affecting the Lower Cape Fear River Basin. They encourage working internships for students and offer water-quality education programs to schools, civic groups, developers, homeowner associations and others. They provide storm water management training for local government staff.
  • Advocacy: Riverkeeper and Riverwatch members work on water quality related issues such as stopping heavy industrial pollution, concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs (elaborated below), and fish restoration in the Cape Fear River.
  • Action: CFRW encourages participation on and in the river, from paddling to cleaning up, to monitoring water quality and conduct research.

A Focus on CAFOs:

By documenting and showcasing the illegal pollution associated with factory farms throughout the Cape Fear Basin, CFRW is forcing factory farms to improve their practices. This is critical work because there are more CAFOs in the Cape Fear River Basin than any other place on Earth, resulting in over 5 million hogs, 16 million turkeys, and 300 million chickens produced annually in the region. The enormous amounts of pollution discharge from both swine and poultry CAFOs contain nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, heavy metals such as copper, toxic gases including methane, hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia and deadly bacteria and viruses such as MRSA and salmonella.

Despite extensive evidence demonstrating significant contributions of nutrient and bacterial pollution from CAFOs to public waters, the state if North Carolina has failed to uphold its delegated responsibilities under the Clean Water Act. Out of the over 2,000 swine CAFOs in North Carolina, only 14 have been required to obtain a Clean Water Act permit, while the majority operate under a State General Permit that wrongly assumes that all pollution is contained on-site. In truth it leaches into the water table, is sprayed onto field polluting the air and properties of communities, and has widespread devastating effects on people, air and water.

Through group water sampling, ongoing legal cases, and committed collaboration with other partners, CFRW’s work has resulted in cleanup efforts at these facilities. As well, CFRW educates and organizes communities in order to keep new slaughterhouse operations out of the Cape Fear Basin.

We encourage readers to learn more about Cape Fear River Watch here.

Collaborating to Improve Hog Farming Practices


Aerial image by Mark Devries over a factory farm in North Carolina

As you know, for many years, by partnering with Waterkeeper Alliance, we have been fighting pollution produced by industrial hog farms (aka CAFOs), which keep large numbers of pigs in small, confined places.

In November, The Moore Charitable Foundation and Environmental Grantmakers Association hosted an hour-long webinar to discuss the impacts of CAFOs. Representatives from Waterkeeper, Food & Water Watch, and Johns Hopkins University spoke about their work and necessary reforms. Speakers included Bob Martin, Senior Policy Advisor, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future,  Former Executive Director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Agriculture; Kelly Foster, Senior Attorney, Waterkeeper Alliance; Jillian Fry, Project Director, Johns Hopkins University; and Patty Lovera, Assistant Director, Food & Water Watch.

Speakers discussed violations of the Clean Water Act; the pressing public health concern of overuse of antibiotics at CAFOs; the spread of pollution, antimicrobial-resistant pathogens, the emission of greenhouse gases including methane and nitrous oxide, and the contamination of nearby water bodies from untreated manure lagoons.

Small farms are being shut out of business by large factory farms that monopolize the industry. Patty Lovera from Food & Water Watch stated, “Monopolies reduce competition, raise prices, drive out innovation and prevent newer innovative companies from getting into the market…These companies have become the deciders – in matters of policy and farm practice and have become the primary barrier to making a meaningful shift to a more sustainable and more equitable food system.”

Documentary filmmaker Mark Devries has captured video footage of this issue depicting massive lagoons of untreated hog waste in North Carolina. In Devries 2013 film “Speciesism,” a two-year investigation highlights the dire consequences of waste management on factory farms across the United States. Learn more about his work here.

We must come together to fight this harmful industry and find solutions. I am hopeful that the webinar and new video footage will help spread the word on CAFOs and inspire action. Do your part by pledging to support sustainable farms, not animal factories.

Committed to Better Practices and Safer Products

A few weeks ago Moore Charitable Foundation met with Bob Keefe, Mae Wu, Attorney, Health Program, and Linda Greer, Program Director Health & the Environment to discuss one of my biggest concerns: Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in North Carolina. CAFOs, also known as factory farms, are polluting the state’s air andorganic water at alarming rates, while also creating antibiotic resistance in humans. Denmark has succeeded in curtailing the use of antibiotics by establishing a reporting system forcing farms to disclose how much they are using. The hog farm industry is threatening our basic rights to clean water, clean air, and clean food. Please join the fight for better practices and safer products. When shopping for meat, look for these labels: USDA Certified Organic, American Grassfed Certified, Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane.

Support Antibiotic-Free Meat

Russ Kremer. Photo Credit:

Russ Kremer. Photo Credit:

Recently, Moore Charitable Foundation joined  NRDC at Duke University to learn about the most pressing environmental issues facing North Carolina. Mae Wu, an attorney in NRDC’s Health and Environment Program in D.C., reminded us of the tragic consequences of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) on the health of North Carolina residents and the waterways they rely upon. CAFOs overuse and misuse antibiotics, creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria that jeopardize our ability to fight infections. Watch the below videos that explain this disturbing issue and join us in demanding that the pork industry clean up their act. I urge you to support companies that are committed to all-natural and antibiotic-free meat.

VIDEO: Stop the Superbugs

VIDEO: Growing Green Awards Winner, Russ Kremer