A Duke Energy power plant pumped 61 million gallons of water from two ash ponds into a tributary of the Cape Fear River, state officials said Thursday in citing violations.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources said inspectors found the pumping during a March 11 visit to the Cape Fear power plant in Chatham County.
The visit was part of a round of inspections by state officials following a Feb. 2 spill of ash into the Dan River.
The Waterkeeper Alliance, a clean-water advocacy group, has said it spotted pumps at the Cape Fear power plant by air on March 10.
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No downstream towns have reported problems with their drinking water, but DENR is collecting water samples in the Cape Fear. The Cape Fear supplies Sanford, Dunn, Fayetteville and other cities with drinking water, the News & Observer of Raleigh has reported.
Ash ponds have vertical pipes that drain water left when ash particles settle to the bottom. DENR said Duke’s pumping bypassed that system, accelerating the draw-down of the water in the ponds.
Duke has said the pumps were used temporarily to lower water levels so the company could do maintenance work on the ponds. DENR said the pumping “far exceeded what would reasonably be considered routine maintenance.”
Duke has 30 days to respond to the state’s Notice of Violation, which may result in fines against the company.
Judge rejects delay
A Wake County judge who on March 6 ordered “immediate action” on groundwater contamination by ash ponds on Thursday denied Duke’s request to temporarily put the order on hold.
Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway’s ruling had overturned a decision by the state Environmental Management Commission. Duke, which joined the case on the commission’s side, had asked Ridgeway to stay his order during an appeals period.