DENR: Issues with well water near coal ash dumps

Results to include near Cliffside Steam Station

Overhead satellite shot of the Cliffside Steam Station in southern Rutherford County.
Overhead satellite shot of the Cliffside Steam Station in southern Rutherford County.

CLIFFSIDE — The state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources has sent letters to residents using well water near Duke Energy’s 32 coal ash dumps regarding water quality.

State officials said results from tests included well owners near the Cliffside Steam Station in southern Rutherford County. Results from tests in Rutherford County have not been released pending the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) confirming all notices have been mailed and received.

Test results, while not made available, may specify what chemicals were found in water wells tested around the Cliffside Steam Station.

However, there were 87 cases where results “exceeded state groundwater standards, according to The Associated Press. Officials said state groundwater standards were exceeded, but most of the cases still met federal guidelines.

In December 2014, residents with water supplies coming 1,000 feet from Duke’s coal ash pits were invited to have their water tested, which prompted the latest batch of results.

In March 2014, DENR officials discovered a failed emergency drainage overflow pipe at the Cliffside Steam Station. Officials said just under a gallon a minute of comingled wastewater and stormwater were coming from the failed pipe. Later that month, DENR cited Duke for dam deficiencies at Cliffside after two “high hazard” dams were inspected and noted to have deteriorated pipes and a lack of vegetation which could have led to a discharge of coal ash into the Broad River. Duke officials were instructed to provide DENR with a repair schedule for the dams.

Sample page from groundwater test results near the Cliffside Steam Station in southern Rutherford County.
Sample page from groundwater test results near the Cliffside Steam Station in southern Rutherford County.

DENR has records (NC0005088 Cliffside GW Parameter Values 1-2010 to 4-9-15 Sheet1) of groundwater tests from collections dating back to 2011. Around Cliffside, the tests have consistently shown levels of Nitrogen, Chloride, Sulfate, Arsenic and Barium in the tests. Most of the early tests show levels of those substances less than dangerous levels.

Since April 2014, groundwater tests have indicated levels of Boron, Cadmium, Chromium, Copper, Iron, and Lead at below danger levels. The plant did test for levels of Thallium, Manganese, Nickel and Zinc. Thallium is a hazardous by-product of coal ash, but levels were deemed safe by state and federal standards.

There are two inactive ash basins at the Cliffside Steam Station, however there is one large basin to the east of the plant in Cleveland County along with two smaller ash storage areas. Those two ash storage areas are along the banks of the Broad River.

According to DENR, only the L.V. Sutton Plant in New Hanover County has been cited for groundwater issues in 2015. The Asheville Plant in Buncombe County has also been served a notice of violation.

Source: DENR, The Associated Press, WSOC TV