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Riverkeeper: Coal Ash Pollution Isn't Regulated When It Comes To Seepage

The Catawba Riverkeeper has identified a handful of places where water from Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds are seeping into Mountain Island Lake and Lake Wylie. 

Catawba Riverkeeper Rick Gaskins has found four leaks, or what are called seepages, into the two lakes that provide drinking water to the Charlotte area.  The seepages bubble up from the ground. 

“The ones that are the easiest to spot have generally an orange-ish color to them,” says Gaskins. 

The environmental group has sampled this water and found it carries coal ash toxins. Gaskins isn’t worried about the immediate impact.  It’s the long term that bothers him. 

Duke Energy already discharges water from the coal ash ponds around its Riverbend and Allen Steam Station power plants into the lakes.  The utility and state sample that water to make sure it’s safe.  The seepage leaks are not tested and Gaskins says that’s a problem. 

“You have the potential for more hazardous material getting into the lake than the lake can handle,” says Gaskins. 

The seepages don’t come as a surprise to Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.  Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert says they’re actually a good sign that the coal ash ponds are working as they should.    

“Seepage, in fact, performs a very important function because it helps ensure that the inside of the dam does not get too moist, too moisture laden, and it also makes sure that there’s not pressure build up inside the dam,” says Culbert.    

Culbert says Duke visually monitors seepages and sends that information to the state, along with water samples taken throughout the two lakes. 

The Catawba Riverkeeper challenged S.C. Electric & Gas over similar seepages near Columbia.  The group argued the Wateree power plant was discharging contaminants without a permit.  In August, they came to a settlement.  The utility agreed to remove all coal ash from ponds at that plant and recycle or place it in lined landfills. 

The Riverkeeper Foundation is mounting a similar challenge in North Carolina. The group will appear before the state’s environmental management commission December 3rd.