Southern Environmental Law Center Says Duke Energy Coal Ash Pollution into Hyco Lake and Dan River and Roanoke River Basins Violates Clean Water Act
By Frank Holleman, selcnc.org
On behalf of the Roanoke River Basin Association, the Southern Environmental Law Center today notified Duke Energy of its intent to file suit in federal court for illegal pollution of Hyco Lake and the Dan River and Roanoke River Basins from Duke Energy’s Roxboro coal ash site in Person County, North Carolina. Duke Energy currently treats Hyco Lake and waterways that flow into it as unprotected pollution dumping grounds and contaminates them with coal ash pollution.
“Duke Energy is treating Hyco Lake like its own wastewater lagoon and polluting it with coal ash contaminants,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Hyco Lake is a major recreational asset for the people of North Carolina and should be protected from Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution.”
At Roxboro, Duke Energy is using an arm of Hyco Lake to dilute its pollution before it reaches an arbitrary “discharge” point in the lake. Duke Energy also treats Sargents River, which flows into Hyco Lake, as its coal ash pollution channel, with no water quality protections. In addition, Duke Energy is discharging coal ash pollutants to Hyco Lake via illegal leaks and contaminated groundwater that flow into the lake. The coal ash at Roxboro sits in unlined lagoons approximately 70 feet deep in groundwater, allowing pollutants to leach out continuously in violation of Duke Energy’s permit. In 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency classified Hyco Lake as a “proven ecological damage case” due to the coal ash pollution.
“Hyco Lake a vital resource for our local economy,” said Mike Pucci, president of the Roanoke River Basin Association. “Hyco Lake hosts fishing tournaments and its waters flow downstream to Kerr Lake, supplying drinking water for thousands of people in North Carolina and Virginia. Duke Energy shouldn’t be using any part of this river basin as a dumping ground for its untreated coal ash pollution, especially after the Dan River coal ash spill.”
Duke Energy had also treated another North Carolina lake, Sutton Lake in Wilmington, as its coal ash pollution lagoon. Following a suit brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center, the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled that Sutton Lake was a water of North Carolina entitled to the protections of the Clean Water Act and North Carolina law in 2014. Now, Duke Energy must observe the requirements of the Clean Water Act and provide protections for Sutton Lake. The new Roxboro Clean Water Act notice seeks to ensure the same protections apply to Hyco Lake and its tributaries.
Hyco Lake and its tributaries are part of the Dan River Basin. The Dan River was the site of Duke Energy’s disastrous 2014 coal ash spill. Duke Energy has jeopardized treated public drinking water supplies due to its bromide pollution of the Dan River and it dumps its coal ash pollution into the Dan River from its Belews Creek, Roxboro, Mayo, and Dan River coal ash sites.
Under the Clean Water Act, SELC and RRBA can file suit in federal court 60 days after providing notice to Duke Energy of the violations at Roxboro. As a result of court orders and binding agreements, Duke Energy is now required to excavate all of its coal ash from ten of its sites in North and South Carolina. Six leaking, unlined coal ash sites in North Carolina remain unresolved and are the subject of an ongoing enforcement action in state court addressing violations of state water pollution laws at these sites, including Roxboro.
SELC and RRBA have brought another Clean Water Act enforcement action for Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution and leaking, unlined coal ash storage at its nearby Mayo site. That action is pending in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville VA; Chapel Hill NC; Atlanta GA; Charleston SC; Washington DC; Birmingham AL; Nashville TN; Asheville NC; and Richmond VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. See more at www.SouthernEnvironment.org
The Roanoke River Basin Association is a non-profit organization based in Danville, Virginia, whose mission is to establish and carry out a strategy for the development, use, preservation and enhancement of the resources of the Roanoke River system of lakes and streams in the best interest of present and future generations. RRBA consists of hundreds of members, primarily located within the 410-mile-long Roanoke River basin in Virginia and North Carolina, including local governments; non-profit, civic and community organizations; regional government entities; businesses and individuals. Find them online at prod.rrba.org.