Breaking: Dominion to Tighten Pollution Limits for Treated Coal Ash Wastewater 

Deal with James River Association targets wastewater from Bremo Power Station.

The Bremo Power Plant has been in service burning coal since 1931, but recently switched to natural gas.

Scott Elmquist

The Bremo Power Plant has been in service burning coal since 1931, but recently switched to natural gas.

An agreement has been reached to toughen pollution limits for treated coal ash wastewater that will be put into the James River at the Bremo Power Station about 50 miles upstream of Richmond.

The deal was reached late yesterday between the James River Association and Dominion Virginia Power. “I think this is a good day,” said Bill Street, chief executive officer of the river association.

Dominion has reached a similar deal for its Possum Point Power Station with Prince William County, according to a Dominion media spokesman.

The controversies involve two pollution permits that were approved by the state Water Control Board in January.

According to Street, plans should avoid having a toxic mixing plume of wastewater up to 2,000 feet long in the James at Bremo -- a major point of controversy among environmentalists. Dominion plans on dewatering three waste ponds there, partially sealing the coal ash ponds and then treating the wastewater before dumping it in the James.

After major protests and negotiations, Dominion now plans to make more use of a treatment process to extract potentially dangerous pollutants, such as arsenic, when they reach prescribed levels. This will be at the last stage of cleansing before wastewater is released in the James. There also will be extra monitoring of the effluent and among fish populations.

“They will remove even more of the heavy metals,” Street said. “By keeping discharges below water quality levels, there will be no mixing zone."

Dominion plans to permanently close 11 coal ash ponds at four power stations to meet new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules. In January, Dominion won permits for its plans at the Bremo and Possum Point power stations.

[Q&A: What You Need to Know About Dominion's Plans for the James River.]

The permits touched off intense controversy among environmentalists, local residents, fishing enthusiasts and kayakers. The matter drew more urgency since the James is the drinking water source for Richmond.

As part of the deal, the James River Association and the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents it, have dropped plans to appeal the Bremo permit in court.

Street says the new deal should achieve pollution levels closer to those in North Carolina, which has stricter limits for pollutants than Virginia.

Street says the compromise deal is enforceable in state court. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality also could take action against Dominion if it fails to follow the stipulations of the agreement.

Street says his group has been negotiating intensely with Dominion since the permits were granted.

The settlements "emphasize flaws in the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's permitting process," the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and Southern Environmental Law Center say in a joint statement.

The permit agreements "only address treatment of polluted water on top of the coal ash," the statement says. "The agreements say nothing about management of the underlying coal ash itself. Dominion's own records show the coal-ash pits at Possum Point have been leaking toxins into the groundwater and public waterways for more than 30 years.

"Even with these agreements, Dominion is still planning to leave the coal ash in pits along the banks of the Potomac River, as well as its coal ash sites throughout Virginia -- even as utilities in North and South Carolina commit to removing coal ash to safer dry, lined landfills away from waterways."

A Dominion spokesperson says that the deal worked out for Bremo "could serve as a model for future permits" that it is seeking to close coal ash ponds at its Chesterfield and Chesapeake Power Stations.

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