If you recall, Dominion Power has been moving forward with a plan to “close in place” 3.7 million cubic yards of coal ash under the finalized U.S. EPA Coal Ash regulation. The plan for Possum Point is to consolidate all of the on-site coal ash into one impoundment. There is estimated to be 3.7 million cubic yards of coal ash. Dominion has collected more than 1 million cubic yards of ash from four smaller ponds, put them in a 120-acre pond that already contains 2.6 million cubic yards of coal ash that they have begun to dewater. The plan calls for the pond to be capped with an impermeable membrane to prevent future infiltration of rain.
These coal ash ponds have been open to the elements and taking on water for decades. Trace contaminants and metals in the coal ash may have already leached into the groundwater, Quantico Creek and Potomac. The State Water Control Board and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are the regulating agencies that oversee the dewatering of the ponds, though the U.S. EPA maintains authority to review applications and permits for "major" dischargers, a distinction based on discharge quantity and content. In January 2016 DEQ and the Water Control Board approved the modifications to Dominion’s Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) Permit allowing the treatment and subsequent discharge of the coal ash waters to Quantico Creek, which flows into the Potomac River.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued a discharge permit in 2013 authorizing Dominion Power to discharge wastewater from coal ash ponds D and E at Possum Point through a designated outfall. On August 18, 2015, Dominion Power applied for and received a permit modification from DEQ seeking authorization to drain wastewater stored in ash pond D into either a tributary of Quantico Creek or Quantico Creek directly. This wastewater includes high levels of arsenic (960 µg/L, as compared to the EPA freshwater standard of 150 µg/L) and other metals. DEQ staff estimated that pond D holds approximately 150 to 200 million gallons of wastewater, and estimated that dewatering of coal ash pond D will take two years.
On January 19, 2016, DEQ issued a final modified permit for the Possum Point Power Station authorizing the release of wastewater from coal ash pond D into a tributary of Quantico Creek or Quantico Creek directly and authorizing the discharge from the toe drain. This was followed by The Potomac Riverkeepers (represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center) and Prince William County Board of Supervisors filed appeals to the permit.
Last spring an agreement was negotiated between Dominion Power and the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. The county would withdraw their appeal and Dominion Power agreed to reduce contaminant levels in the discharged water and independent testing of the levels:
- Dominion agrees to provide advanced treatment of all water from the coal ash ponds prior to discharge, regardless of whether this treatment level is needed to meet the required VPDES Permit levels.
- Dominion agrees to take additional hourly samples, and if any of the samples exceed more stringent triggers for certain elements (arsenic, selenium, lead, copper, antimony, and thallium), Dominion agrees to provide an additional enhanced treatment step, thus assuring the final effluent concentrations will be considerably lower than required by the VPDES Permit.
- Dominion will only use a State accredited third-party independent laboratory for its VPDES Permit-required sampling and testing.
- Dominion will implement Standard Operating Procedures and Quality Assurance/Quality Control protocols.
- Dominion will regularly post on a publically accessible website all permit-required test results for public review.
- Dominion and the County will work collaboratively to coordinate on solid waste permitting during the next phase of the closure of the inactive coal ash ponds to ensure that the Board’s and Dominion’s commitments to groundwater quality and environmental protection continue to be met.
- Dominion will reimburse the County for its costs of outside technical consultation services regarding this state and federal regulatory matter pertaining to the water discharge and the solid waste permit application review. As such, the County and its citizens will not be responsible for these costs.
Three weeks ago, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network argued to have the courts set aside the modified VPDES permit for Possum Point and remand the matter to the State Water Control Board and DEQ . The court failed to set aside the permit, but the court declined. Nonetheless, DEQ requested the additional monitoring wells. DEQ’s media spokesperson, Bill Hayden, said the request is part of the normal solid waste permitting process. Since Dominion Power has reported elevated groundwater concentrations of certain heavy metals associated with coal ash, additional monitoring wells were necessary to identify the extent of the contamination.
Possum Point Power Station is located in Dumfries Virginia in the eastern part of Prince William County that borders the Potomac River and the Quantico Creek. Dominion Virginia Power has not burned coal at Possum Point for 13 years and is unlikely to burn coal to generate power in the future. Possum Point is downstream from nearby drinking water supplies and is unlikely to impact local residents beyond what has already taken place over the decades. Though, let me clearly state that when coal ash is stored in ponds without proper and effective liners, harmful pollutants from coal ash can leach or dissolve into the water and move into the groundwater, streams, rivers and bay.
Dominion’s monitoring has shown that the coal ash ponds at Possum Point have leaked cadmium, zinc, and other pollutants into the on-site groundwater, but no off-site monitirng has been carried on before now so the extent of the environmental impact is not known.
The Potomac Riverkeepers are pushing to have the coal ash waste removed from the site and disposed of in a lined landfill far from any surface waterways. I disagree, because I am concerned about protecting our groundwater as well as our surface water. I do not believe in hauling one environmental problem to another location to become a second environmental problem. Closing the coal ash on site when properly done is the best solution. A safe closure requires a fully lined pond, ongoing monitoring and maintenance that is best accomplished at an operating and regulated plant rather than at a remote cap and leave it location. All physical barriers fail over time this is addressed by monitoring and maintaining the systems.