City official: Coal ash pond on Lake Wylie no threat to Rock Hill water supply

Posted February 27, 2014 8:55 pm | Filed under Featured, Local News

CRH-FILTER-PLANT-001City of Rock Hill
With a recent coal ash spill on North Carolina’s Dan River — it doesn’t take much to start asking about the vulnerability of York County’s water supply as another one of those ash sites sits just north of the state border.

Most, if not all, of York County’s water supply sits downstream of one of those coal-fired electric generation plants operated by Duke Energy. At last check, the spill could cost $70 million to clean up.

Sam Perkins of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation has spent the last two years advocating for the welfare of the 224-mile Catawba-Wateree River basin that stretches from Asheville, N.C. to Camden, S.C.  Perkins says about two million people depend on the basin in the Charlotte metro area each day — a figure that includes York County.

Perkins said if the coal ash ponds at the Allen Steam plant were to fail, “you would have some major issues for Rock Hill’s drinking water intake and ultimately for everyone downstream.” In an interview Thursday, he qualified the leaky coal ash ponds as, “mashed potatoes trying to hold in a puddle of gravy.”

The City of Rock Hill water system, which also serves municipal customers in Fort Mill and York, has its major intake on Lake Wylie — well below the Allen plant. But Deputy City Manager Jimmy Bagley said the system would be able to handle a coal ash contamination.

“Most everything that’s in it — we can take out,” Bagley said. At the most, a contamination might require more frequent filter changes and backwash cycles to flush the system.

On a given day, Bagley said the city’s filter plant undergoes a backwash cycle about once every 24 hours. During the winter, the cycle is drawn out to about once every 48 hours.

In the event of coal ash leaking into Lake Wylie, Bagley said that cleaning cycle may have to be done “every couple hours.”

The city’s water intake is under 24-hour surveillance, as is the city’s filter plant on Cherry Road. Even though the intake is outside of city limits, the area is regularly monitored by the S.C. Department of NaturalResources and the York County Sheriff’s Office lake patrol.

But despite the coal ash pond upstream, Bagley is confident the ponds are not a major threat to the water system.

Perkins, however, said Duke Energy should make an effort to dismantle the ponds, as have South Carolina utilities Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric and Gas. Both utilities, as the result of a lawsuit, shut down their respective ponds near Columbia and Myrtle Beach.

“You hear about their finanicals that keep coming out — the $3 billion profit,” Perkins said. “They’ve got the resources — and they need to do what the South Carolina utilities have done.”