Dominion, James River Association announce agreement on coal ash ponds

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RICHMOND, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- Dominion Virginia Power and the James River Association have reached an agreement on discharges of treated coal ash wastewater from the ponds at the Bremo Power Station in Fluvanna County.

The discharges are being regulated by a permit the state Department of Environmental Quality and the State Water Control Board issued in January, which requires Dominion to build and operate a wastewater treatment system at the power station. Dominion representatives say that it was one of the strictest permit's they have ever seen.

"That means that there is a lot of monitoring going on, a lot of making sure we are doing what we are supposed to be doing," said Dan Genest, a Dominion Virginia Power Spokesperson. "Those types of things make it a very strict permit."

Many environmentalist groups say they had issues with the original permit.

"We thought it was clear that portions of the river were not going to be protected," said Pat Calvert, the Upper James Riverkeeper. "If that is as stringent a permit gets, I think we have some work ahead of us."

The James River Association teamed up with the Southern Environmental Law Center and said they would appeal the original permit.

"The amount of pollution that can go into the river was far too weak," said Greg Buppert, Senior Attorney at SELC.

SELC and the JRA say that the permit would allow up to 550 units of arsenic per one billion units of water. Other states, such as North Carolina, have had similar permits issued, but only allowed up to 13.5 units of arsenic per one billion units of water.

"We just want to make sure that the people who use the river, go fishing, and eat from the river will be safe," said Calvert.

Dominion agreed to enhanced treatment of the pond water, and in return, the JRA wouldn't appeal the permit.

"The agreement that the James River Association actually reached with Dominion brings that treatment technology to bear in a very effective way," said Buppert,

Dominion must submit a plan to be reviewed by the DEQ.

Dominion says that they were always planning on cleaning the water more than the original permit asked for.

"It was always our goal to clean the waters better than the DEQ permit," said Genest. "And the DEQ permit is very stringent. It fully protects the river, and we are committed to clean the water well below the permit allowance."

The company will also conduct enhanced testing of fish in the river throughout the dewatering project, and the results of that testing will be made available to the public by Dominion and the DEQ.

A similar agreement between Dominion and Prince William County was announced Tuesday.

That agreement deals with the dewatering of coal ash ponds at the Possum Point Power Station, Quantico Creek and the Potomac River.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued rules in 2015 calling for the closure of inactive ash ponds across the country, including 11 that Dominion has at four power station across Virginia.

Before the ponds can be closed, any water that has accumulated in them must be removed and treated.

David Paylor, the DEQ director, released the following statement about the agreements:

“DEQ is pleased that Dominion has voluntarily agreed to go beyond federal and state regulatory requirements to further enhance protections for Virginia waters.

“DEQ has full confidence that its discharge permits fully protect water quality, aquatic life and human health. The permits issued for Dominion’s Bremo and Possum Point power stations, like thousands of similar permits DEQ has written in the past four decades, meet strict federal and state requirements for water quality.

“The people who work at DEQ take their environmental stewardship obligations seriously, and recent accusations against DEQ’s integrity are baseless. The quality of Virginia’s rivers and streams has improved dramatically over the years. DEQ will continue to write and
enforce permits that protect Virginia’s environment in the consistent, thorough and responsible manner that Virginians deserve.”

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