For Immediate Release February 18, 2014: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Continuing to Help in Dan River Coal Ash Spill
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Continuing to Help in Dan River Coal Ash Spill
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is continuing to provide fish and wildlife expertise during the emergency response and remedial phases following the Dan River coal ash spill and will work with others to determine the impacts of the spill, short-term and longer-term, on fish, wildlife, and their habitat.
"Biologists and environmental contaminants specialists from our North Carolina and Virginia field offices have initially found layers of coal ash of varying thickness spread out over 70 miles of the Dan River," said Tom Augspurger, Contaminants Specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "At the spill site, we identified a coal ash bar about 75 feet long and 15 feet wide which had as much as five feet of ash or ash/sand mix over the natural stream bottom. Our biologists are working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Duke Energy biologists on a downstream reconnaissance; we've found ash covering natural sediment over five inches thick atop sand bars within two miles of the spill site, and two inches thick to the North Carolina /Virginia line about nine miles downstream. Further downstream as far as South Boston, Virginia, we've observed one-eighth to one-half inch of ash on sandbars and other depositional areas, and traces of ash all the way to Kerr Lake."
"The deposits vary with the river characteristics, but the short and long term physical and chemical impacts from the ash will need to be investigated more thoroughly, especially with regard to mussels and fish associated with the stream bottom and wildlife that feed on benthic invertebrates," said Augspurger. Benthic invertebrates are organisms that live in or on the bottom sediments of rivers, streams, and lakes.
Teams will need to assess conditions at the stream substrate where some of the sensitive resources reside, especially in areas where the ash accumulates.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has had field crews on the water. Just after the spill, the water was extremely cloudy, so observations were restricted to the water's surface and river banks. Service personnel have not directly observed any sick or dead fish or wildlife. A few citizens reported seeing dead turtles at two Virginia parks, and biologists visited both of those sites but didn't find any carcasses. Wildlife morbidity and mortality reports can be made to the Fish and Wildlife Service contacts listed below, or at EPA's website for this event http://www.epa.gov/region4/duke-energy/contact.html).
Looking at the surface water quality data collected by others, biologists noted exceedences of the North Carolina state water quality standard for turbidity (a measure of light scattering which indicates how clear or cloudy the water is) in most samples downstream of the spill during the first four days after the release. There were a few exceedences of arsenic and selenium standards for protection of aquatic life and frequent exceedences of the state action level for copper in water, but their connection to the spill is not certain. The Fish and Wildlife Service teams were able to assess shoreline and sandbars between the site of the release and Kerr Lake although some sections in that stretch remain to be surveyed this week. It is not yet known if the ash deposits stay in place after higher river flows, such as the recent increased flows from snow melt. More detailed assessments will follow when the emergency response phase is over.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has coordinated with state and federal biologists in North Carolina and Virginia to synthesize information on the locations of rare species and other resources at risk. We have coordinated with biologists and toxicologists familiar with coal ash to focus response and assessment efforts. Some of that includes suggestions for sample collection methods to examine potential habitat impacts (e.g., sediment sampling, sampling throughout the water column in addition to the surface) - sampling now in progress. In addition to the field reconnaissance, Fish and Wildlife Service specialists have worked with the incident command on emergency endangered species consultations - expediting any response actions proposed by Duke Energy and USEPA, and they have begun impact assessment discussions with Duke Energy and others.
The Fish and Wildlife Service's initial concern is the physical burying of habitat that is important for fish, mussels, and other aquatic life. The ash can coat the bottom in depositional areas, burying animals and their food. The Service is also concerned about physical effects on gill tissues in fish and mussels from exposure to coal ash. There may also be longer-term toxicological impacts to aquatic animals from metals of elevated concentrations in ash.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is a supporting agency to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Federal On-Scene Coordinator providing technical assistance, primarily regarding natural resources at risk. In the incident command structure for this event, the Fish and Wildlife Service is working most closely with the Environmental Unit, and have had contaminants specialists, endangered species biologists, and GIS / mapping experts on site to jhelp in the response efforts.
In addition to common aquatic species, there are two federally listed endangered species, the Roanoke logperch (Percina rex) and the James spinymussel (Pleurobema collina) in the Dan River system in North Carolina and Virginia. The Dan River system supports another freshwater mussel species, the green floater (Lasmigona subviridis), which the Service is currently evaluating to determine if it warrants protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. Records for all three of these species are found either upstream or downstream of the area affected by the Dan River Steam Station coal ash spill.
The Roanoke logperch is a relatively small fish, attaining a length of 5 to 5.5 inches. It lives on the stream bottom and finds insect larvae for food by flipping over stones with its snout. Because of this feeding behavior, this fish relies on loosely embedded, silt-free, gravelly stream substrates. It is found in the Chowan River basin in Virginia and the Roanoke River basin in Virginia and North Carolina.
The James spinymussel is one of only three species of freshwater mussels in the U.S. that has spines on its shell. An adult is about three inches in length. It feeds on bacteria, algae, and other small food items which it filters from the water column, thereby helping to clean the stream water. Like most of our native freshwater mussels, the James spinymussel requires certain species of fish to reproduce. The female mussel releases larval mussels, called glochidia, into the water column. The glochidia must come in contact with specific species of fish, and if they encounter these species they attach to the fishes' gills and draw nourishment from the fish. After developing into juvenile mussels, they detach from the fish and drift to the stream bottom where they will develop into adults if they land in a suitable substrate. Survival of the James spinymussel is linked to the habitat and environmental quality requirements of its host fish species.
The James spinymussel is typically found in coarse sand and small gravel substrates, often interspersed between cobble and boulders, which help provide a hydraulic refuge. Like the Roanoke logperch, the James spinymussel does not do well in silty substrates. It is found in the Dan River basin in North Carolina and Virginia, and the upper James River basin in Virginia and West Virginia.
Like the James spinymussel, the green floater is a relatively small mussel species, reaching around 2.5 inches in length. It also is typically found in relatively silt free, sandy, gravelly substrates. Unlike the majority of our native freshwater mussels, there is some evidence that the green floater may not require a fish host to reproduce. It is currently known from scattered locations from the Hudson River system, New York, to the Savannah River system in South Carolina.
For more information, please contact: Sara E. Ward, Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office, (919) 856 4520 Ext. 30, Email: Sara_Ward@fws.gov or Susan Lingenfelser, Virginia Ecological Services Field Office, (804) 693 6694 Ext. 151, Susan_Lingenfelser@fws.gov. On the web: http://www.fws.gov/southeast/pubs/facts/DanRiverCoalAshReleaseFacts.pdf. Photos area available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast/.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfwssoutheast, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwssoutheast, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast.
The press release is located here: http://www.fws.gov/southeast/news/2014/012.html
Posted: 12:45 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014
Coal ash lines river 70 miles from NC spill site
RALEIGH, N.C. —
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Dead turtles found on Dan River bank after coal ash spillWGHP/FOX8 | Posted: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 8:39 am
DANVILLE, Va. — Pictures taken by a Danville fisherman of two dead turtles on the Dan River bank have been shared more than 1,000 times online.
The pictures come in the wake of 82,000 tons of coal ash leaking into the Dan River from a Duke Energy site.
Morris Lawson never intended to create so much attention with his pictures. “But I’m sort of glad people are seeing what’s happening here,” he pointed out.
Lawson said the river is his second home. He fishes there at least four times a week and knows the wildlife and the water.
He said Duke Energy’s coal ash spill is already changing things on the Dan River.
“You can step off right there and you’re going to go up in six inches of ash,” he said of the river bank.
Last Tuesday, Lawson was at the boat ramp near Schoolfield Dam in Danville when he found two turtles dead in two different locations on the river bank.
“One turtle was at the dam up on the bank about two feet out of the water. And the other turtle was located about where that tree is (by the boat ramp) about 2 feet up out of the water on the bank. And he was on his back. The other one was on his belly,” explained Lawson.
Jenny Edwards is a program manager with the Dan River Basin Association.
“We have heard some reports that turtles appear to be crawling up on the banks and dying,” she told WGHP/FOX8.
Edwards added, “Turtles should be hibernating this time of year. It’s cold.
She emphasized, “Even though we can’t directly link it to coal ash, this is exactly the sort of thing we expected to start seeing.”
According to a release from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff reported Monday that they have not directly observed any sick or dead fish or wildlife in the Dan River. Staff with the service also reported Monday that a few residents reported seeing dead turtles at two Virginia parks.”
The release also said, “The service’s biologists visited both of those sites but didn’t find any
One dead turtle the service was provided will be sent this week to a wildlife veterinarian for examination.”
The same release detailed the DENR’s latest water quality sampling plan. They have started sampling water quality at the upper end of the John H. Kerr Reservoir in Virginia, it said, in response to the coal ash spill in Eden. It’s one of five water sampling sites at which DENR is now testing.
“This is unchartered territory,” Edwards said of the spill. “We’ve never dealt with something like this on the Dan River.”
She was at a legislative meeting in Raleigh Monday which partially addressed the coal ash spill. She said Duke Energy and DENR officials spoke about the timeline of the spill and notification of the public.
But, she said, the plan for cleanup is still unclear. “I think there are a lot of unanswered questions on what’s next. I certainly did not walk away with a clear picture of what’s next, and who’s in charge and how that is going to unfold.”
Lawson worries his pictures could just be the beginning. “A turtle’s tough. A turtle is a tough animal.
If it’s killing the turtles?” he questioned, shaking his head. “It means there’s something bad coming in the long run. That’s just the first of it.”