Cleanup the Coal Ash!
Today’s guest blog about the #5 Catawba River- a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series- is from Sara Behnke, a local resident living near the Riverbend Steam Station.
Thirteen years ago, when my husband and I built our house on Mountain Island Lake, I thought the smokestacks of Duke Energy’s Riverbend Steam Station were nothing more than an eyesore. Over these past 13 years, a lot has changed. I’ve given birth to two children, watched my mother battle cancer, and then battled it myself. Spurred by those life-changing events, I’ve become more educated and aware about what is going on around me. I now know that Riverbend doesn’t just mar my lake view. It jeopardizes our entire community.
Since it opened in 1929, Riverbend’s coal pollution has contaminated the air we breathe and the water we drink. Mountain Island Lake happens to be the source of my family’s drinking water, as well as the source of drinking water for 860,000 others in the Charlotte area. Thankfully, after 84 years, Riverbend has finally closed its electrical generation. Yet, sadly, its legacy of toxic pollution has not yet ended. Two coal ash ponds continue to dump a perpetual stream of toxic water into the lake. Water tests by Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and Duke University have repeatedly shown high levels of arsenic in lake water. Yet, Duke Energy continues to say that their tests do not find contamination.
You see, after coal is burned, ash is left behind and it has to be stored somewhere. But coal ash is full of arsenic, selenium and other carcinogens. What Duke Energy has done for decades is dump the ash into giant unlined pits and cover them with water, turning them into ash ponds. And it’s not just ash that gets dumped in the ponds. Duke is allowed to dump chemical solvents and all sorts of other stuff into the ponds that you wouldn’t want in your drinking water. The ash ponds on Mountain Island Lake contain 3.2 million cubic yards of this toxic waste, precariously perched on the shores of the lake we love, threatening the precious drinking water we need to live.
We only have to look as far as Kingston, Tennessee, to see what happens when a coal ash dam fails. Our drinking water would be destroyed, wildlife devastated, and our property values would plummet to nil. And then there’s the potential loss of life. The Environmental Protection Agency has rated the two ash ponds on Mountain Island Lake “high hazard,” meaning their failure would likely cause loss of human life.
My family and I love this community. My kids have made many wonderful memories here. They learned to swim here, water ski here, fish here. What a great place to grow up. They’re both always telling me that they never want to move. That’s why I make the choice every day to fight for my community and demand that Duke Energy do the right thing. They must clean out the ash ponds and move the waste to dry, lined storage where it can no longer seep into our drinking water, contaminate groundwater, and threaten to destroy the lake. Any decision short of this and Duke Energy will be putting profits before people. And our drinking water will continue to be polluted for years to come.