Two weeks since Duke Energy crews plugged a broken stormwater pipe, stopping a leak of coal ash into the Dan River, little progress has been made on removing that ash from the river.
A multitude of federal and state agencies are on-site at the Dan River. The EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the state environmental agency are all testing the water’s quality. The Army Corps of Engineers has consulted on methods of clean-up. State regulators announced Monday they are testing if fish are safe to eat. But very little ash has been removed from the water, and that’s starting to make residents nervous.
“It needs to happen now,” says Tiffany Haworth, executive director of the Dan River Basin Association.
Haworth says many of the area’s farmers are members of her organization, because they rely on the Dan River’s water. And they worry about a lack of action.
“Planting season is around the corner,” says Haworth. “And there’s quite a few who are intaking directly from that Dan for crop irrigation, cattle, livestock.”
Duke Energy’s engineers have constructed a vacuum system to suck up deposits of coal ash on riverbanks. Coal ash has been spotted as far as 70 miles downstream. But, a spokeswoman says the company only used the vacuum for about an hour and a half. It partially removed one deposit just past the spill site. Then, the snow came, the river’s level rose, and since then it’s been too high to perform further work.
Haworth says she understands there are engineering challenges, but questions how much planning is in place to clean-up the river and the remaining ash in the pond.
“What’s the timeline to get that ash out of the river, and ash out of that primary basin that still remains a threat?” she says.
It is not clear there is one. The EPA has not released an update in a week. In press releases, state regulators say all the testing of the river’s health will inform an eventual clean-up plan.
Duke reiterates that long-term monitoring will determine what is cleaned up from the river. A company spokeswoman says regulators haven’t decided how much of the 30,000 tons of coal ash that spilled into the river will need to be cleaned-up.