Month: January 2016
Virginia Approves Permit Allowing Dominion Power to Divert Water From Coal-Ash Ponds into Nearby Waterway
Last Thursday, the Virginia State Water Control Board approved a permit allowing Dominion Virginia Power to drain their coal-ash ponds at a Dumfries facility into the Bay Watershed, in a move that will exacerbate pollution issues in the lesser Potomac River Watershed.
Dominion Power operates the Possum Point Power Plant in Prince William County, where, until 2003, the company burned coal for power. While coal is no longer burned at this facility, 215 million gallons of coal-ash water remains on-site, in holding ponds.
Dominion Electric and environmentalists alike would like to get rid of this debris. Their desired method of removal however, is a point of contention, with Dominion wanting to divert debris into the nearby waterways, and some environmentalists and state senators calling for ash and sediment removal and relocation to a landfill.
Last week, the State Water Control Board sided with Dominion Power, approving a permit that allows the company to gradually drain the water from the coal-ash ponds into the neighboring Quantico Creek (a part of the Potomac River Watershed, and greater Chesapeake Bay Watershed).
The approval of discharge of the coal-ash water is allowing an on-going practice to continue, but not without consequences. Concentrations of arsenic and selenium (by-products of coal-ash) have been found in high concentrations in Quantico Creek, and in the past, monitors have found evidence of coal-ash seeping through pond linings.* Allowing Dominion Power to divert water from their coal-ash ponds into Quantico Creek will exacerbate water quality issues, endangering local fish and shellfish species. Fish in this immediate region (in particular bass and catfish) have already been declared too contaminated to eat. The recent permit will prolong consumption restrictions, not to mention poor living conditions for marine species.
The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which is in charge of Dominion’s discharge permit, has previously made some concessions to environmentalists, including limiting the rate Dominion is allowed to divert treated water from the coal-ash ponds to the creek. However, the agency refuses to enforce further water treatments from these ash ponds, or seal off the drain from the ponds to the Quantico Creek altogether.
Opposing parties to the recent permit are examining ways in which to appeal this decision. Updates will likely soon follow.
* Water quality in Quantico Creek is monitored by members of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, a group that finds sources of water pollution in our local waterway, and works to involve regulators to enforce environmental law. More on the organization to follow.
The Chesapeake Bay has been reportedly clearer this season. Bay waters start to get less murky as temperatures drop (and algae growth slows) in autumn and winter. However, Bay-front residents have been impressed by just how clear waters have been recently.
Clear waters signify lower nutrient and sediment levels and improved water quality throughout the Bay. With fewer pollutants present, sunlight can reach submerged aquatic vegetation (underwater grasses), that act as important sources of shelter and food for finfish, shellfish and other aquatic species.
This season’s improved water clarity is likely attributed to low levels of precipitation this past fall. Less rain translates to less runoff, which brings nutrients and sediments into the estuary from freshwater sources. The Susquehanna River, the largest contributor to nutrients and sediments in the Bay Watershed, had, according to the USGS, two-thirds the rate of its average flow into the Bay this past September and October. The Susquehanna generally discharges large loads of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Bay, due to the large amount of agricultural activity that takes place within this subwatershed.
We saw indicators of good water quality (with low nitrate and phosphate levels) in Antipoison Creek this September, where waters have also been pretty clear. Water samples for the rest of the year were just sent into the laboratory for testing, so we are waiting on these results, which should tell a fuller story on water quality in Antipoison Creek. In terms of long-term water quality results, it will be interesting to see if these good water quality results were influenced by the fall drought of 2015 – if our water quality results were only temporary- or if this particular part of the Bay is in pretty good health.
Source: Pilot Online