19 January 2016
The Virginia State Water Control Board voted 6-1 on January 14 to approve a revised permit that allows Dominion Power to release treated water into the James River from coal ash ponds located at its Bremo Power Plant.
This process, called “de-watering,” removes excess liquid from the ponds, where decades of coal ash from the plant’s time as a coal-fired facility are stored, and prepares the toxic residue to be either capped and sealed on site or removed. Once the surface water has been removed from the ponds, wells will be drilled to remove residual water from the ash. That water will likely be contaminated with toxic chemicals like arsenic, cadmium, and lead – by-products of coal combustion – so the permit establishes limits to the amounts of these pollutants that may be released into the river.
The James River Association, as well as the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, the James River Outdoor Coalition, and the Falls of the James Commission were vocal opponents of the permit.
“I speak with a strident voice,” said Brad McLane, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the James River Association, “because I believe we are right on the law and I believe this permit does not comply with the law.”
McLane pointed out that the Department of Environmental Quality has a responsibility to prevent damage to vulnerable populations of aquatic life – particularly those that are threatened or endangered. “In the ‘mixing zone,’ at low water conditions,” he emphasized, “there will be a toxic plume that will extend 2,000 feet downriver.” McLane went on to call the permit arbitrary and capricious.