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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- North Carolina has sued Duke Energy for polluting Mountain Island Lake, Charlotte s major water source, with contaminants from its coal ash lagoons.

The N.C. Division of Water Quality added its claims about Mountain Island to an existing lawsuit filed in March.

That litigation asked for a court injunction against a Duke subsidiary over coal-ash pollution at an Asheville power plant. It marked the first time the state has taken legal action against a utility over its handling of ash, which contains toxic elements.

The amended complaint filed Monday in Wake County Superior Court asks the court to force Duke to stop contamination from Duke s Riverbend power plant west of Charlotte and assess its extent.

The Southern Environmental Law Center and the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation filed an intent to sue Duke over ash stored at Riverbend in March.

The Riverkeeper has reported seepage from Riverbend s two ash lagoons into Mountain Island Lake. Groundwater near lagoons at 14 Duke plants in North Carolina has also been contaminated, although natural sources may be partly responsible.

I think it s clear the only reason the state has taken action in either case is because we have taken action, said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the law center. The state has been aware of the leaks as well as the groundwater pollution for years.

Any reasonable person would say it s irresponsible to store more than 2.5 million tons of toxic coal ash in an unlined hole in the ground beside the drinking water supply for the city of Charlotte.

Duke contends the ash seepage from Riverbend, which closed April 1, is normal and has no impact on the lake s water quality.

We are reviewing the filing and believe we have diligently complied with Riverbend s water discharge permit, Duke said in a statement. We appreciate the state s desire to obtain as much information as possible related to discharges to Mountain Island Lake and groundwater, and we expect to work closely with them on this matter.

Duke Energy responds

In an email released to media outlets Tuesday afternoon, Duke Energy released the following statement:

I understand the Southern Environmental Law Center has sent a news release today discussing recent NCDENR action on Riverbend Steam Station. Please find our statement and background information if you choose to cover this story:

We are reviewing the filing and believe we have diligently complied with Riverbend s water discharge permit. We appreciate the state s desire to obtain as much information as possible related to discharges to Mountain Island Lake and groundwater, and we expect to work closely with them on this matter.


Other background

  • Duke Energy has been monitoring water quality in Mountain Island Lake since 1953. The lake s water quality remains good, fish are healthy and drinking water supplies are safe.
  • The volume of ash basin seepage is extremely small and has zero impact to the overall water quality in the lake. Seepage is necessary for an earthen dam s structural integrity, and we have routinely informed the state of the seepage occurring at our ash basin dams.
  • We sample groundwater at Riverbend s ash basins regularly and report that data to the state. Groundwater sampling at Riverbend s ash basins finds elevated levels of iron and manganese only. These are common to North Carolina soils and pose no health risk to drinking water.
  • As part of modernizing our power plants, the Riverbend Steam Station retired April 1. We plan to close those ash basins once they are no longer needed, in close coordination with state regulators.
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