Catawba River plans to sue Duke Energy over coal ash pollution

Catawba River plans to sue Duke Energy over coal ash pollution


by STUART WATSON / NBC Charlotte Staff

Bio | Email | Follow: @stuartwcnc

Posted on March 26, 2013 at 6:23 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 26 at 6:41 PM

CATAWBA, N.C. -- The old Riverbend coal plant is shutting down but the coal ash pollution goes on – and now a local environmental group is suing over it.

Duke Energy plans to shut down its out-of-date, coal-fired Riverbend Steam Station by Monday, April 1, but the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation served notice this morning that it plans to sue Duke over ongoing water pollution streaming from two ponds containing millions of tons of coal ash.

Those ponds flow into Mountain Island Lake several miles upstream of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s massive water intake as well as intakes for much of Gaston County, the source of drinking water for more than three quarters of a million people.

The Riverkeeper’s formal notice that it intends to sue claims that in addition to Duke’s permitted discharge, Riverbend’s ponds leak into the lake through dozens of smaller “seeps,” some of which Duke has funneled into small streams by using rock known as “rip-rap” and French drains.

Duke has maintained that the leaks are signs that the earthen dam is “healthy” and that the water flowing from the coal ash ponds into the lake meets all state and federal water quality laws.

But the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation samples and tests the water quality from both the seeps and the stream known as the “outfall.” And the Riverkeeper claims the coal ash lagoons are discharging pollutants at many times the federal drinking water standard.

Specifically the Riverkeeper claims to have documented discharges of:
•    Arsenic at least twice the standard
•    Cobalt at 52 times the standard
•    Manganese at 128 times the standard

Duke representatives say the drinking water standard does not apply to the water flowing from the coal ash ponds.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities District regularly tests the raw water before it is treated for drinking, and reports no increased levels of pollutants.

Duke University researchers have found increased levels of arsenic trapped in the muck outside the water intake. 

The scientists say under drought conditions the arsenic could “erupt” into the raw water supply.

Duke Energy has yet to file a plan for closing the coal ash ponds after the plant closes. The Riverkeeper says the pollution will continue long after the plant stops burning coal.