RICHMOND, Va. — As outcry continues against Dominion Virginia Power’s plan to discharge coal ash waste water into local waterways, the utility company Friday released resources intended to help educate the media and the public.
The press release, titled in all caps, NO COAL ASH IS GOING INTO VIRGINIA WATERWAYS, was distributed to quell any misinformation about their coal ash pond management, a Dominion representative told CBS 6.
CBS 6 has reported extensively on Dominion’s plan to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s new requirements for the storage of coal ash. The new regulations were implemented by the EPA in 2015. Dominion must clean up the coal ash ponds and close them.
Outcry for the plan came shortly ahead of the State Water Control Board’s vote on Jan. 14, to allow Dominion the permits required to pump waste from the coal ash ponds at Bremo Bluff Power Station in Fluvanna, up river of Richmond and the Possum Point Power Plant in Prince William.
Since then, a petition has been circulated, and the issue continues to be spotlighted. Dominion and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) officials have declared that the plan is safe and up to standard, and the proposed permit has gone through appropriate public comment and revision.
It’s not coal ash going into the waterways
There are several times where the media and concerned citizens have reported that “coal ash” will be going into the waterways.
Coal ash is the potentially toxic byproduct of burning coal and it is made up of aluminum oxide, iron oxide and silicon oxide. It contains arsenic, mercury and other metals.
The EPA created new regulations to address its disposal, not long after a leak in a 48-inch storm water pipe at retired Duke Energy plant in North Carolina sent about 39,000 tons of coal ash and wastewater and up to 27 million gallons of basin water pouring into the Dan River, which flows into Virginia.
At the plant upriver of Richmond, there are three coal ash ponds which contain approximately 357 million gallons of water (dependent on rainfall) that need to be drained. It will drain over a year and a half, and that’s it.
The water which sits on top if the coal ash is considered the least toxic part. Getting rid of that is the first step in Dominion’s plan to close its 11 coal ash ponds at its four Virginia facilities.
That’s why they are acquiring water permits.
Next they will need permits to address the stabilization of the coal ash, which will be a solids permit, explained Brad McLane with the Southern Environmental Law Center, in a previous interview.
The hearing for the solid waste permit will be in April.
At the plant closest to Richmond, the ash from one pond will be removed and a portion of the pond will be lined and repurposed as a wastewater treatment pond for the station, according to Dominion. The rest of the pond will be filled with clean soil and planted with natural grasses, they said.
The remaining two ponds will be closed in place using an engineered cover system consisting of a high density polyethylene layer, covered by 24 inches of soil, and vegetative cover to blend with the existing landscape. The cover system will protect ash from rainfall and protect groundwater, they said.
You can read the other plans here.
Dominion maintains that the water will be treated.
“We’ll do this on-site using a multi-stage process according to stringent, government-mandated levels before discharge,” reads the fact sheet.
“We’re working with several firms that specialize in on-site wastewater treatment. Each site is being evaluated individually to select the best treatment process to protect the James and Potomac rivers and other waterways.”
The DEQ and environmental lawyers have acknowledged that the Bremo permit does allow for a “mixing bowl” area downstream of the power plant that will technically violate water quality standards before it is mixed with the James.
The biggest impact will be felt near the plant and along the nearby stretch in Fluvanna, according to McLane. A provision was added that the level of water in the north ash pond can only be lowered by six inches a day.
Environmental groups maintain that the permit allows for discharge on days when the river is low and that the allowed levels are too high.
The DEQ approved a 530 maximum micrograms per liter for the Dominion permit, which McLane said is an improvement over the original proposal. The water which saturates the coal ash has arsenic at over 900 micrograms per liter, according to McLane.
“They (Dominion) will have to provide some treatment, but not the level of treatment that we believe should occur and not at what the Clean Water Act suggests if you read the law correctly,” he said.
The recently submitted revision had a “pretty substantially” stronger monitoring provision, that McLane called the “main improvement.”
On behalf of the James River Association, McLane’s organization, the Southern Environmental Law Center, has filed a notice with DEQ and Dominion to appeal the permit.
The established levels can be found in the permit posted on the DEQ site. The information starts on page 13.
“Richmond is downstream enough that if Dominion is complying with their limits, then it is hard to imagine that the impacts of this activity will be felt downstream,” McLane said. “Hopefully, you are protected, based on this amendment; we think there is a very low risk.”
You can read more about Dominion’s plan here.
The company press release was disseminated just moments before a state agency sent a separate press release detailing Dominion’s oil spill into the Potomac which killed 29 animals and fish. That spill happened at the end of January, 2016, and Dominion claimed responsibility for it on Friday, Jan. 12.
The images below were fact sheets sent to the media.