Waterkeepers investigate after coal pile spill at Duke Energy’s Cliffside Plant

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Riverkeepers sampled the Broad River last week after a stormwater spilled from a coal pile at Duke Energy’s Cliffside plant. (Photo courtesy Waterkeeper Alliance)

This post was updated at 2:45 p.m. to add comments from Duke Energy.

Nearly a week after Duke Energy announced that 15,000 to 50,000 gallons of stormwater had spilled from a pile of unburned coal into the Broad River, it is still unknown if there is any contamination from the discharge.

Now two riverkeeper groups are conducting their own sampling to determine if the river has been contaminated, and if so, to what extent.

The spill occurred Aug. 2 at the former Cliffside Station, also known as the Rogers Energy Complex, in Mooresboro, about 50 miles west of Charlotte. Duke Energy officials attributed the spill to recent heavy rains. In a press release, Duke said the stormwater did not come into contact with coal ash. The spill, the release said, was detected during a routine inspection of the plant.

In the press release, Duke officials said they “have seen no impact” to the Broad River. Duke did not respond to a phone call seeking comment on whether the energy company sampled the river water. Update: At 2:45 p.m., Duke spokesperson Danielle Peoples said that the company did not sample water from the Broad River after the incident. She said testing was not necessary because the stormwater contact with the coal pile was “minimal,” and that the large volume of water and fast current of the Broad River after the storm would have quickly diluted and moved the discharge downstream.

Peoples said Duke received no reports of problems downstream and that the spill didn’t harm aquatic life.

Representatives from the state Department of Environmental Quality’s Asheville office also visited the site. Michele Walker, public information officer for the Division of Water Resources, told NCPW that DEQ inspectors “did not observe any coal material” in the river, although the water was turbid. DEQ also inspected the outfall, where the stormwater entered the river.

However, DEQ did not test the river, Walker said, because “based on the site conditions observed, knowledge of the discharge channel and type of event, staff determined sampling was not warranted.”


Duke Energy’s Cliffside plant, now known as the Rogers Energy Complex. (Photo courtesy of Catawba Riverkeeper)

Now, the Broad River Alliance and Waterkeeper Alliance have conducted their own sampling, which has been sent to an independent lab for analysis. David Caldwell of the BRA said the group hopes to receive results in a week to 10 days.

On Aug. 3, riverkeepers toured the Broad by boat for three hours. They reported spotting “a suspicious discharge to the river from a stream that flows between a leaking, inactive coal ash dump and the unburned coal pile next to the power plant. The discharge contained cloudy, gray water with a thick layer of caramel-colored material floating on top of it.”

The riverkeepers said they also sent questions to Duke Energy, including a request for sampling results and a clarification of how far downstream inspectors investigated the water.

Crews installed a trench to redirect the runoff and reinstalled fencing to keep silt from flowing into the river, said Peoples of Duke Energy. The discharge occurred because of the heavy rain, combined with gulleys created by construction trucks working onsite to close the coal ash basins.

The amount of stormwater that discharged into the Broad River is roughly equivalent to the number of gallons in a 20 foot by 40 foot inground swimming pool. By comparison, 35 million gallons of water, contaminated with coal ash from a Duke Energy plant in Eden, spewed into the Dan River in February 2014.




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