Sunday, May 28, 2023

Florence flooded animal waste into the water supply; Brunswick County says it’s a ‘regular occurrence’

Where water is now yellow or slightly brown, Brunswick County addresses frequently asked questions about its utility operations.

A Brunswick County home flooded after the Waccamaw River crested. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
A Brunswick County home flooded after the Waccamaw River crested a week after Hurricane Florence made landfall. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Hurricane Florence caused sewage overflows, flooding that carried animal waste into the waterways, and the breach of Duke’s Sutton coal ash pits. Now, Brunswick County is answering questions about its water quality.

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A particular concern has been “livestock flooding,” where floodwaters swamp industrial livestock operations, introducing large amounts of animal feces into waterways. Under disaster conditions like those that followed Hurricane Florence, that also includes contamination from dead livestock — including millions of dead chickens and thousands of dead hogs — making its way into the raw water supply.

“The livestock flooding has been and continues to be a regular occurrence even without the extreme flooding,” Amanda Hutcheson, the county’s spokesperson, wrote in a release Friday.

What about the water?

Water in some areas in Brunswick County is yellow or slightly brown. The discoloration is caused by “slightly elevated levels of iron and manganese,” according to Hutcheson.

Elevated iron and manganese levels can be attributed to flooding caused by Hurricane Florence, broken water lines, increased water temperatures and increased water demands, Hutcheson said.

Even though the water is discolored, Hutcheson said the water meets drinking water standards. Still, the county doesn’t advise residents wash white linens with discolored waters.

Treating livestock feces and other wastewater contaminants

With the state’s testing ability still offline in the Cape Fear region, Brunswick County Public Utilities assumes flooding contaminants are already present in its raw water. Under this assumption, the utility uses an increased amount of chemical disinfectants to treat drinking water.

“This typically means the water is over-treated the majority of the time,” Hutcheson said.

Typically, a test to determine total organic carbon (TOC) would be administered to determine how elevated the water’s bacteria levels are. The utility would then match its chemical feeds to TOC results.

Chemicals the utility incorporates to treat water contaminated by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) include powdered activated carbon and chlorine dioxide.

Despite municipal sewage failures, dead animals, hog, chicken and turkey waste making its way into the county’s raw water, Hutcheson said finished drinking water is safe to drink.

“In post-hurricane flood waters, we have systems in place to ensure that the water is bacterially inactivated and safe to drink, whether it is municipal wastewater flowing down the river or livestock waste,” Hutcheson said.

However, the county encourages residents who use a private well to test their water. If a private well has been contaminated by floodwater, and many likely have, the county asks residents to disinfect it with a chlorine treatment. (More information on how and when to disinfect private well can be read here.)

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at

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