SCE&G is ahead of schedule on the required cleanup of coal ash ponds at its Wateree plant, according to the utility’s latest update.
In fact, environmental groups are citing SCE&G’s efforts at the Wateree plant as an example of Santee Cooper should follow at its coal-fired power plant on the Waccamaw River in Conway.
“SCE&G is demonstrating that utilities can convert from risky and polluting storage of coal ash in unlined lagoons on the banks of rivers to safer dry storage in monitored lined landfills away from the river’s banks," said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “If SCE&G can take these responsible steps on the Catawba/Wateree River near Columbia, there is no reason why Santee Cooper cannot do the same thing.”
SCE&G has to file a progress report on the cleanup at its plant in southeastern Richland County every six months to meet requirements of a settlement with the Catawba Riverkeeper. The report through June 30, released this week, indicates 105,706 tons of ash were removed from the main storage pond since Jan. 1, and 280,870 tons have been removed in the past 18 months.
“This shows that the Wateree situation is actually moving toward resolution,” Holleman said.
The ash is being removed from two unlined ponds near the Wateree River to a lined landfill for dry storage away from the river. SCE&G also has converted its plant to eliminate wet storage in ponds. The ponds are to be completely emptied by the end of 2020, according to the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Catawba Riverkeeper.
Coal ash, the waste material from burning coal at power plants, has historically been dumped in man-made ponds, many of which were not lined with plastic or some other synthetic material. The ash contains arsenic and other toxins that, in some cases, leaked into groundwater or spilled into rivers and across the landscape. Arsenic – an ancient poison and suspected carcinogen – leaked from the Wateree plant’s ponds into both groundwater and the nearby river.
The Wateree plant is about three miles upstream of the southern portion of Congaree National Park, where the Wateree River meets the Congaree River. Groundwater monitoring at the plant indicated metal and arsenic levels didn’t exceed acceptable levels, according to the report.
Environmental groups have filed similar litigation against Santee Cooper for its operation of a coal power plant in Conway. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is considering a closure plan by Santee Cooper that would leave the coal ash by the Waccamaw River forever.
“If SCE&G can do the right thing for the Wateree, Santee Cooper can do the right thing for Conway and the Waccamaw River,” said Christine Ellis, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper.