Virginia Dominion Power last spring released 33.7 million gallons of untreated coal-ash water into Quantico Creek, the utility confirmed to InsideNoVa.com last week.
As part of the ongoing cleanup ahead of the eventual closure of five coal ash ponds at the Dumfries-area power plant, Dominion drained a total of 52.5 million gallons of untreated coal-ash water from one of those ponds last May.
The top 33.7 million gallons -- or about 51 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth -- were released into Quantico Creek, Dominion spokesman Dan Genest told InsideNoVa.com in an email Feb. 4.
Dominion said the discharge of storm water was permitted under the utility’s existing Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VDPES) permit.
"The ash pond closure project now taking place at Possum Point is a positive environmental development. We are following sound, established practices as well as the letter of state and federal law," said David Botkins, Dominion's director of media relations and communications. "We are being pro-active, safe and working with a sense of urgency."
The revelation comes ahead of the Prince William Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday meeting, during which they are scheduled to hear a presentation from Virginia Department of Environmental Quality officials about Dominion’s coal ash plans.
Those plans include treating and draining about 200 million additional gallons of coal ash water into Quantico Creek -- and the adjacent Potomac River -- and then capping the ash in place in the largest pond on site, which has a clay liner. The pond will be topped with a synthetic liner, about two feet of soil and planted over with grass.
As was routine across the country, Dominion used ponds to store the tons of toxic coal ash that accumulated at the power plant during the time it burned coal to make electricity, from the plant’s construction in 1948 to 2003. The plant now burns natural gas.
Dominion says its closure plans comply with new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules for coal ash disposal and are aimed at safely containing the toxic ash so it does not leak into the ground water or contaminate the Quantico Creek and the adjacent Potomac River. Coal ash contains toxic metals, including arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium and chromium.
But critics, including the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, say state officials have already allowed Dominion to contaminate Quantico Creek and the Potomac, as evidenced by the May draining of one pond, and via a “toe drain” that DEQ officials acknowledged in December has likely been leaking coal ash contaminated water for decades.
The DEQ State Water Control Board on Jan. 14 approved a permit modification to allow Dominion to go forward with its plans to treat and flush the remaining 200 gallons of coal ash water from the largest pond.
Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks said his group has received conflicting information from Dominion and DEQ officials about the draining of untreated coal-ash water into Quantico Creek, and wants tan EPA investigation into a possible violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
“We are demanding an EPA investigation,” Naujoks said Sunday. “The head of [DEQ] misled the public about dumping 30 million gallons of contaminated, untreated coal-ash water into Quantico Creek and the Potomac River. We feel the permit needs to be revoked based on this new information.”
In emails sent to the EPA Criminal Investigation Division in June and again in January, Naujoks said a June flyover of the ponds revealed “a pumping mechanism, lighting and piping,” leading from one pond to an adjacent tributary of Quantico Creek that suggested the pond water was drained at night.
Naujoks said the handling of the incident suggests Dominion cannot be trusted to follow the self-reporting stipulations outlined in the permit modification the utility received from DEQ’s State Water Control Board Jan. 14.
The Potomac Riverkeeper Network announced last week it will appeal the permit.
DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden has not responded to a Jan. 15 request for comment except to say the agency “is looking into” whether DEQ knew Dominion drained one of the ponds last May and whether the action complies with utility’s existing Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VDPES) permit, which allows the utility to discharge storm water that collects on the top of the coal ash ponds into Quantico Creek.
That’s the explanation Pamela Faggert, Dominion’s vice president and chief environmental officer, gave in a Jan. 14 interview conducted after the State Water Control Board meeting.
At the time, Faggert said she didn’t know how much water was drained from the pond but that it was only “surface water” that had no contact with the coal ash sitting on the bottom of the pond.
Faggert said the draining stopped short of reaching “commingled water,” which is contaminated by the ashy sludge.