Honorable discharge: Will toxic water be dumped in the James?

Wastewater will be discharged from the Bremo Power Plant in Fluvanna County.  Photo by Robert Llewellyn Wastewater will be discharged from the Bremo Power Plant in Fluvanna County. Photo by Robert Llewellyn

Environmental groups and concerned citizens worry that Dominion’s intentions to dump millions of gallons of wastewater per day into the James River won’t go swimmingly.

Alleging that the wastewater potentially being discharged from a Fluvanna County power station will contain coal ash and toxic metals, some are worried about the environmental impacts on the river in which many swim, fish and boat.

The Department of Environmental Quality has issued the permit, but is allowing comments from the public until December 14.

“I will certainly not swim in those waters,” Pat Calvert, a riverkeeper with the James River Association and longtime boater says, if the DEQ permanently allows Dominion’s proposed permit. It’s his job to keep the river clean, and he says it’s his intention to protect water quality and river integrity.

Calvert says millions of Virginians rely on the river for drinking water, recreation and economic value. Various levels of danger are associated with each chemical present in the coal ash wastewater—lead, arsenic, mercury, selenium, boron and thallium—that could be dumped and, though the DEQ will require the chemicals to be diluted and present below certain levels, he says most of the contaminants are heavy metals with varying levels of toxicity, radioactivity and potential for damage to water quality and human and aquatic health.

“Those who may ingest or be exposed to discharged wastewater could be affected by these substances, particularly while they are less diluted and in higher concentrations,” he says. “Fishing could be affected through the effect on the game fish and the forage.”

The wastewater in question will be discharged from the Bremo Power Station in Fluvanna. Last April, Dominion announced it would close its coal ash ponds at four sites, including one at Bremo, but critics say the power company basically closed the ponds by covering them up and allowing the pollution to continue indefinitely. Now the water needs to be removed.

A DEQ employee says he’s aware of the concerns, but says some people don’t understand exactly what his organization aims to permit.

“We’re not authorizing Dominion to dump coal ash into the James River,” says Brandon Kiracofe, the water permits and compliance manager for the DEQ’s Valley Regional Office. He says controlled discharged wastewater flowing from an outfall pipe will be diluted at high enough levels that none of the chemicals present in the water will be dangerous. The DEQ will monitor the water before it’s discharged, he says, to make sure levels of chemicals in the water don’t surpass the limits that are set.

Dominion spokesperson Dan Genest says as soon as the permit is issued, the company will start building two treatment facilities on the property, and all wastewater will be treated before it’s discharged.

“We commend them for caring about the James River,” he says about the activists trying to shut the project down. “But we all share the same goal—to make sure the discharges do not have any effect on the James River.”

Public comments can be e-mailed to Beverley Carver at beverley.carver@deq.virginia.gov.

Updated November 9: The original story misstated the e-mail address to which comments should be sent.

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