CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte's Duke Energy will not have to cleanup some leaks from coal ash ponds at its coal-fired power plants.
That is the ruling from the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission.
"That could have a significant impact on our drinking water," said Catawba Riverkeeper Richard Gaskins.
The state panel rejected the request from the Riverkeeper Organization and three other environmental groups that would have forced Duke to cleanup ash pond leaks.
The ruling permits leaks if they are within a 500 foot radius of the ash ponds.
"The concern is essentially you've got unregulated, unmonitored discharges of hazardous substances going directly into the drinking water reservoirs," said Gaskins.
A spokesperson for Duke Energy, Erin Culbert, said that Duke was pleased with the ruling and called it "appropriate."
Culbert said, "water quality is good and the drinking water supply is safe."
Asked why Duke, as a good neighbor, would not just go ahead and stop leaks, Culbert said plants like Riverbend Steam Station at Mountain Island Lake were already slated to be closed down by 2015. It did not make economic sense to burden customers with paying to close ash basins at smaller stations that will be closing.
Culbert also said that groundwater standards apply to many other industries and Duke feels that input from the public in changing those rules should not be circumvented.
Mountain Island Lake is the source of drinking water for most every Mecklenburg County resident, some of whom said they already have concerns about drinking water.
"I buy bottled water," said Jennifer Pruett as she loaded groceries into her car at a shopping center near Mountain Island Lake.
The lake is also a popular boating and fishing spot.
As fisherman Dean Walker headed out from a dock in his boat with his dog, he said of the coal ash, "I believe they should clean it up. It is getting into the ponds and contaminating the fish."
The Riverkeeper Organization is already planning to appeal the commission ruling.
The group is also scheduled to meet next week with the federal Environmental Protection Department to discuss coal ash leaks.