Georgia Power confirms coal ash ponds fail to meet federal restrictions

Two Georgia Power plants, Wansley and Yates, sit along the banks of Chattahoochee River. (© Craig Tanner)

At least ten of Georgia Power’s toxic, unlined coal ash ponds sit dangerously close to the groundwater beneath them, according to the utility’s recent filings required under the federal Coal Combustion Residuals rule.

According to the utility’s disclosures for 10 of its 29 coal ash ponds statewide, all 10 ponds fail to comply with the location restriction that requires at least a five-foot buffer between the bottom of a coal ash pond and the underlying groundwater aquifer. In at least some cases, the coal ash ponds appear to be sitting in groundwater.

Georgia Power’s coal ash ponds were built in the worst places possible – near streams, lakes, floodplains, next to rivers, and right above groundwater, and we now know that at least 10 of its ponds sit too close to the groundwater aquifer,” said SELC Senior Attorney Chris Bowers. “Where Georgia Power plans to just cap many of its unlined coal ash ponds in place, the utility’s own disclosures show the danger this ill-advised strategy poses to Georgia communities.”

Two of the 10 coal ash ponds were also found to be in unstable areas due to the porous soil conditions. Those ponds are at Plant Bowen on the Etowah River near Cartersville and Plant McIntosh on the Savannah River in Effingham County. All 10 ponds met other restrictions: they were not built in wetlands, areas susceptible to earthquakes, or seismic impact zones, according to the filings.

Georgia Power made no filings on 19 inactive coal ash ponds. Under the federal rule, the company has until April 16, 2020 to disclose location restriction information for eight additional active ponds.

The utility's current closure plans call for closing four of the noncompliant coal ash ponds in place without a bottom liner, despite the admitted failure of these ponds to meet the minimum five-foot buffer requirement under federal law. These ash ponds are located at three plants: Plant Scherer on the Ocmulgee River near Macon, Ga.; Plant Wansley on the Chattahoochee River near Carrollton, Ga.; and Plant Yates on the Chattahoochee near Newnan, Ga. (four ponds).

Georgia Power plans to excavate the coal ash from six ponds located at Plants Bowen, Hammond (two ponds), McIntosh, and Yates (two ponds). The ash at Bowen, Hammond and McIntosh will be moved to lined landfill storage.

Georgia Power’s recent admissions show, yet again, that simply closing these waste pits in place will do nothing to protect our groundwater, rivers, lakes and streams over the long term,” said Bowers. “Leaving this ash in place leads to the perpetual risk of leaking toxic pollutants into our waterways. We urge Georgia Power to do what it has already demonstrated to be feasible for several of its other ponds, and excavate the rest of its ash for removal to safer long-term storage.””

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