The most critical environmental issue for the Catawba River Basin, as well as many other water ways, is the safe clean- up of toxic coal ash that proposes threats to both groundwater and our rivers. We should be proud to know that our home state of South Carolina has become a leader in this important environmental action.
Coal ash concerns have been at the top of the list for our Catawba Riverkeeper, Sam Perkins, for several years. Sam initiated sampling at points of leaks from existing coal ash storage areas along the Catawba to prove the level of concern and to gain support from state agencies to take action requiring the clean-up of these facilities. Attention from the public and from state agencies significantly heightened after a serious failure at a coal ash facility owned by Duke Energy on the Dan River in North Carolina failed, resulting in serious pollution of the river.
Coal ash is waste created by burning of fossil fuel to generate electricity. The ash is typically stored in waste lagoons. The ash contains arsenic, other metals, and other poisons that can leak out of the lagoons over time, or can be released through a break causing catastrophic pollution of water ways.
Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and the Southern Environmental Law Center led an initiative with SCE&G several years ago to reach agreement to resolve a coal ash storage issue at their power facility on the Wateree River below Wateree Dam. This was the first of such action by a utility, and that was followed by agreements by both SCE&G and Santee Cooper both making commitments to do likewise at other facilities in the state. South Carolina has about a dozen coal fired sites. Most recently Duke Energy has agreed to dig out and remove ~3 million tons of contaminated coal ash from its Lee power plant in Anderson County. These commitments are significant both in scope and expense.
The Southern Environmental Law Center recently stated, “South Carolina will be the first state in the Southeast where public utilities have either cleaned up, are cleaning or have committed to clean up every (major) ash lagoon in the state.” Sam Perkins our Riverkeeper commented, “These most recent commitments for cleanups were coordinated by South Carolina DHEC. We hope North Carolina will quickly learn from its neighbor.”
Now our attention must be on achieving similar commitments on the other coal ash sites on the Catawba around the greater Charlotte area. All of us know that “stuff flows downstream”, therefore any significant contamination into the Catawba upstream will also negatively impact our water on Wateree. This is just one of the initiatives where we depend on Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation’s leadership to bring about the changes needed to protect our river. That is why many of us on Wateree support CRF, and why both lake groups closely partner with CRF.
We often hear of examples where South Carolina lags the other states in doing what is right to protect our environment. Isn’t it great to know of an important case where our state is in a leadership role? I think so. Thanks to CRF, Southern Environmental Law Firm, DHEC, and of course our utilities for this important commitment.