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2017-11-22 / Featured / Real Estate

Dominion begins to drain coal ash pond

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER

Dominion Energy recently began filtering water from its coal ash pond, running the water through an elaborate filtration system, above, before dumping it into the James River. ASH DANIEL Dominion Energy recently began filtering water from its coal ash pond, running the water through an elaborate filtration system, above, before dumping it into the James River. ASH DANIEL Dominion Energy last week began draining millions of gallons of contaminated water from a massive coal ash storage pond at its Chesterfield power station – the first step in the company’s plan to close the pond as required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Over the next 18 months, Dominion will draw wastewater from the pond and process it using an on-site water treatment system constructed specifically for this project. A Virginia-certified third-party laboratory will test the treated water to ensure it meets state permit requirements; if it does, it will be discharged into the James River.

The coal ash pond contains about 200 million gallons of water, which is roughly equivalent to 300 Olympic-size swimming pools. Despite objections from environmental groups, the state Water Control Board granted Dominion a permit last September to discharge treated coal ash wastewater into the river at Dutch Gap.

A jar of the filtered water. ASH DANIEL A jar of the filtered water. ASH DANIEL State officials say the fiveyear permit is considerably more stringent than the regulations under which the Chesterfield plant previously operated, imposing significant reductions in the level of heavy metals that can be present in the wastewater when it enters the James River.

Toxic metals such as arsenic, lead and chromium are commonly found in coal ash, which is a byproduct created by burning coal to generate electricity.

“Dominion is using a complex process that incorporates state-of-the-art science and engineering to ensure that the water is fully treated and tested before it ever touches the river,” noted company spokesman Robert E. Richardson in an email last week. “The water that is released will be protective of human health and the environment.”

According to Richardson, the pond dewatering process in Chesterfield is identical to operations the company already has conducted at its Bremo Bluff and Possum Point power stations.

Dominion agreed to enhanced treatment of coal ash wastewater at those sites after the James River Association, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Prince William County Board of Supervisors announced plans to challenge its state permits in court.

Company officials contend that any metals remaining in the treated wastewater will be diluted well below federal and state standards as it mixes with billions of gallons of flowing river water.

Environmental groups argued unsuccessfully last year that the Water Control Board should further reduce the threshold of metals allowed in the wastewater prior to discharge.

“These are carcinogens, and they present health risks,” said Brad McLane, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, during the September 2016 hearing.

Concerns over long-term environmental impacts from coal ash prompted the EPA to issue new regulations that require power companies to close storage ponds and manage the material in a different manner.

For many years, Dominion had collected coal ash produced at its Chesterfield power station, mixed it with water and pumped the resulting slurry through a network of pipes to a large, unlined storage pond.

As part of its Chesterfield Integrated Ash Project, the company now is storing dry ash temporarily in silos, then trucking it to a lined landfill on another section of the property. The landfill is projected to have enough capacity to handle 20 years’ worth of ash.

Dominion also spent $20 million to build a 1,400-foot bridge between its power generation units and the landfill, allowing it to transport the ash without destroying wetlands on site.

“These changes highlight the fact that Dominion Energy is serious about its commitment to the environment,” Richardson wrote in his email.

Richardson also noted that Dominion will meet its Dec. 1 deadline for presenting state lawmakers with an analysis of options for managing coal ash once the ponds have been dewatered.

The report is required under legislation co-sponsored by state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, and signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“It’s gratifying to know we can work in bipartisan fashion to get something done that will affect so many people,” Chase said last week.

Thomas Pakurar, a leader of Hands Across the Lake, the local environmental group that has taken a keen interest in Dominion’s coal ash management practices, said citizens are waiting to see if the state requires the company to remove the ash from its unlined ponds and transport it to lined storage facilities.

Pakurar noted that power companies in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia already are under court orders to excavate ash from unlined storage ponds and prevent contamination of adjacent public waterways.

“Hopefully our state lawmakers will make the same ruling after they get the Dec. 1 report,” he added. ¦

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