Press Release | May 28, 2013

North Carolina Sues Duke Energy in Charlotte for Pollution of Mountain Island Lake

North Carolina has filed a second proceeding against Duke Energy for its pollution of Mountain Island Lake, the source of drinking water for approximately 860,000 people in Charlotte,  Gastonia, and Mount Holly, as well as many parts of Mecklenburg and Gaston Counties.  On Friday May 23, North Carolina sued Duke Energy in Mecklenburg County.  Mecklenburg County’s drinking water supply is threatened by Duke Energy’s pollution at Mountain Island Lake.

Three days earlier on May 20, North Carolina brought its claims for Duke Energy’s pollution of Mountain Island Lake in Raleigh, in Wake County court, adding its Mountain Island Lake claims to a proceeding North Carolina had brought against Duke for illegal pollution at Duke’s Skyland facility in Asheville.

These suits followed a Notice of Intent to Sue under the Clean Water Act filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation.  That notice informed North Carolina and Duke Energy of the legal violations set out in the two proceedings filed by North Carolina against Duke Energy.  The lawsuits are based on three years of investigation by Catawba Riverkeeper, a study by Duke University scientists and public data reported by Duke Energy.

Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, stated:  “We are glad that North Carolina has now sued Duke Energy in Mecklenburg County, where people get their drinking water from Mountain Island Lake.  They are concerned about Duke Energy’s pollution of their drinking water supply, and the suit should be brought where people drink the water that Duke Energy has been polluting.”

In the new Mecklenburg County suit, North Carolina again sets out violations of North Carolina law due to Duke Energy’s pollution of the Mountain Island Lake drinking water reservoir.  North Carolina states under oath that Duke Energy’s pollution poses “a serious danger to the health, safety, and welfare of the people of the State of North Carolina and a serious harm to the water resources of the State.”

Rick Gaskins, the Catawba Riverkeeper, stated:  “Our mission is to protect the Catawba River, including the drinking water supply for Mecklenburg County, Charlotte, Gastonia, and Mount Holly.  We are happy to see that the case against Duke Energy will proceed in the community where people drink the water that is being polluted by coal ash from Duke Energy’s Riverbend coal ash waste lagoons.”

Duke Energy has dumped 2.7 million tons of coal ash into unlined lagoons on the banks of Mountain Island Lake.  The lagoons are separated from Mountain Island Lake by an 80-foot high earthen berm.  The berm has been rated a High Hazard dam because of the consequences that would ensue from a failure of the berm.  In 2008, a dam broke at a coal ash dam at TVA’s Kingston facility, spilling 2 billion gallons of coal ash into a neighboring river, and another dam failure last year released coal ash into Lake Michigan in Wisconsin.

Duke Energy’s Mountain Island Lake berm is leaking and the contaminated water is flowing into the drinking water reservoir, and groundwater has been contaminated.  The pollution includes toxic substances including arsenic, cobalt, boron, barium, strontium, manganese, zinc, and iron. Testing by the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation indicates that Duke Energy is discharging arsenic into Mountain Island Lake in concentrations at least twice the applicable standard, cobalt at 52 times the standard, manganese at 128 times the standard, and iron at 27 times the standard.   A study by scientists at Duke University found arsenic contamination in the sediments in Mountain Island Lake.

A similar lawsuit by the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and SELC against South Carolina utility SCE&G was settled last year when the utility agreed to move all 2.4 million tons of coal ash from its unlined Wateree Station lagoons to a lined landfill.

Rick Gaskins, the Catawba Riverkeeper, said:  “If SCE&G can remove coal ash at a larger operating power plant, surely Duke Energy can remove coal ash to protect Charlotte’s drinking water reservoir at a power plant that has been closed.”

About the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is a nonprofit organization with members in South and North Carolina that works to protect and restore the Catawba/Wateree River and its watershed.

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Press Contacts

Frank Holleman

Senior Attorney with a focus on litigation

Phone: 919-967-1450