State Agency Cites Duke Energy for Wastewater Permit Violations

The company pumped an estimated 61 million gallons of wastewater from two coal ash impoundments at its Cape Fear Steam Electric Plant into a tributary of the Cape Fear River, DENR reported.

North Carolina's Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued a notice of violation to Duke Energy on March 20 for violating the conditions of a wastewater permit by pumping an estimated 61 million gallons of wastewater from two coal ash impoundments at its Cape Fear Steam Electric Plant to a tributary of the Cape Fear River.

DENR announced state officials discovered during a March 11 inspection that the company had been pumping wastewater from the two coal ash ponds into an on-site canal that flows to a tributary and then into the Cape Fear River. The pumps and attached hoses were set up in the ash impoundments but were not operating when state officials visited the plant, and the pumping equipment has since been removed, according to its news release.

Duke Energy had reported it was using a temporary pumping system to lower water levels in both ponds in order to perform maintenance. "We were notified by phone in August that Duke Energy intended to conduct routine maintenance work at these ash ponds," said Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources. "The state's investigation revealed that the pumping activities on-going at this plant far exceeded what would reasonably be considered routine maintenance."

The March inspection was part of DENR's inspections of all Duke Energy facilities with coal ash impoundments, following the Feb. 2 coal ash spill at the company's idle Dan River plant. State officials have notified downstream cities about their findings at the Cape Fear plant, and none has reported problems meeting EPA drinking water standards, according to the agency.

Duke Energy is permitted by the state to discharge treated wastewater from the ash ponds into the canal through vertical spillway pipes; the state wastewater permit for the Cape Fear facility was issued in 2011 and expires in 2016.

On March 21, the department approved Duke Energy's emergency plans to start repairing an earthen dam at one coal ash pond at the Cape Fear plant. The utility had reported to DENR the previous afternoon that a crack had formed in the dam. The plan calls for removing water from a horizontal pipe in the ash pond and using a bladder to stop water from exiting the pond through the pipe. "Duke Energy also intends to slowly excavate part of the earthen dam where the crack has formed to address concerns that the soil in the dam could strike the nearby vertical pipe and lead to a rupture in the dam. Plans are to move the excavated material to another part of the ash impoundment and then stabilize the excavated portion of the dam with a layer of special fabric and riprap," DENR reported.