News | February 9, 2016

Emptied coal ash pond at Virginia Dominion Power site raises questions

In June 2015, our partner Potomac Riverkeeper Network took aerial photographs revealing the unexpected draining of coal ash wastewater from “Pond E” at Virginia Dominion Power’s Possum Point Power Plant into Quantico Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River. Dominion’s own records indicate that the coal ash wastewater in Pond E was contaminated with cadmium and other toxic metals and had been leaking into groundwater for over three decades without any action by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) or Dominion. Knowing about the toxins, SELC and Potomac Riverkeeper Network raised concerns that significant amounts of the contaminated wastewater had been dumped into Quantico Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River.

After receiving the photographs in June, SELC asked David Paylor, director of DEQ, to explain the empty pond at the Dominion’s Possum Point Power Plant. Paylor responded in an email: “We know that water was moved between ponds but our best information is that no water was discharged to state waters.”

However, in January, SELC and the Potomac Riverkeeper Network uncovered a consultant report that indicated otherwise. The report referenced, in part: “… surface water stored in Pond E that was discharged into Quantico Creek in May 2015”

Since discovering that mention, both SELC and the Potomac Riverkeeper Network have been unable to determine how much coal-ash wastewater was discharged into Quantico Creek, despite direct inquiry to the involved parties. Today, posted a story that revealed the discharge was nearly 34 million gallons, which is nearly two-thirds of the pond’s total volume. That information in the story was attributed to Virginia Dominion Power officials. No one from Dominion or from DEQ had previously answered our direct questions about the volume of the discharge. A discharge that large would be close to the volume of wastewater released during the disastrous 2014 Dan River spill at a Duke Energy facility in North Carolina, just south of the Virginia border.

“The dumping of wastewater from Pond E is another chapter in a decades-long story of neglect and mismanagement of the toxic coal ash ponds at Possum Point,” said Senior Attorney Greg Buppert. “It is time that DEQ insist on a responsible solution for this industrial waste that keeps it out of Virginia rivers.”