Coal Ash Contamination on Catawba Increases


Today’s update blog about the #5 Catawba River- a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series- is from Catawba Riverkeeper, a non-profit citizens group formed and committed to protecting one of North and South Carolina’s most precious resources, the Catawba-Wateree River Basin.


This summer has seen multiple coal ash lawsuit filings since March when the Catawba Riverkeeper filed a Notice of Intent (NOI) to sue Duke Energy under the Clean Water Act. First, a judge allowed the Riverkeeper to intervene in North Carolina’s lawsuit against Duke Energy relating to illegal discharges from coal ash ponds at the Riverbend Steam Station on Mountain Island Lake. That state-level lawsuit was filed in May as the 60-day NOI was about to expire, and the Riverkeeper was able to lead the lawsuit against Duke. Now, the Riverkeeper has equal legal footing as a plaintiff against Duke Energy.

In the meantime, the State and Duke Energy proposed a sweetheart settlement that would excuse decades of unpermitted pollution at Riverbend, issue a miniscule fine, and request only information on the seeps (not a cleanup) – information that Duke often claimed the State already had. The proposed settlement was open to public comment, and almost 5,000 people sent in comments with literally all but one opposing the settlement. The State and Duke Energy made negligible changes to the settlement, which now will be considered – along with the public comments – by a judge. The Riverkeeper continues to oppose the settlement.

While the Riverbend lawsuit came first, in August, the State of North Carolina filed another all-encompassing lawsuit against Duke-Progress Energy after recognizing groundwater and leaking issues at all other unlined coal ash lagoons throughout North Carolina. With a lawsuit now covering Allen (Lake Wylie) and Marshall (Lake Norman) Steam Stations, the Riverkeeper and Southern Environmental Law Center have also filed to intervene in that new lawsuit.

The Allen Steam Station has both unpermitted discharges (seeps) and groundwater violations at wells around the site. The Marshall Steam Station was cited only for groundwater violations. In November 2012, the Riverkeeper reported unpermitted discharges at Allen to the EPA and the State. Investigating this summer, multiple other unpermitted discharges were discovered and tested. The liquid seeping out from the Allen coal ash lagoons have manganese (a neurotoxin) at 44 times the standard, cobalt at 39 times the standard, and boron at 1.2 times the standard. A map with locations, pictures, and descriptions is available online.

In better news, SCE&G is ahead of schedule on their cleanup of the Wateree River coal ash ponds pursuant to the terms of Catawba Riverkeeper’s settlement with them. In 2009, arsenic was found to be leaking from SCE&G’s coal ash ponds into the Wateree River.

We need to keep up the pressure to address the concerns with coal ash on the Catawba River! Tell the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to require full cleanup of these coal ash ponds.