Monday, April 14, 2014

Coal Ash: Better late than never? Perhaps so

Better late than never? Perhaps so

The Editorial Board | Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2014 7:00 am 
How many Danvillians knew about the existence of the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C., before Feb. 2?

Of those who knew about the power plant, how many knew that coal ash — the waste product from the generation of electric power — was stored in ponds located next to the Dan River?

We’ve all learned a lot about coal ash — and environmental politics in North Carolina — since a corrugated metal pipe underneath one of Duke Energy’s storage ponds in Eden failed and became a channel for coal ash and waste water to pour into the Dan River.

In the weeks and months since, Danville’s reputation as a provider of good-quality drinking water has been tarnished.

City Manager Joe King recently hosted a video made for the city’s coal ash spill webpage. In it, King poses with a glass of water while he says, "The water we deliver is clear and meets all state drinking standards. I want you to know I can give you my personal assurance that water in Danville is safe to drink."

We know the city’s water is safe to drink because multiple tests of Danville’s treated drinking water have proven it to be safe. But the city operates on a narrow margin of error when it comes to drinking water. The water treatment plant can produce nine million gallons of water a day. The city has two water storage tanks in Ballou Park that can hold a total of 12 million gallons.

That’s it. That’s the margin of error. About two days of drinking water.

Besides the remaining coal ash in Eden, what other threats to Danville’s drinking water exist? What does the city’s water treatment plant need to prepare for those threats?

For the city government, the answers can be found by funding a study to find out "any other potential source(s) of contamination to the Dan River which would cause treatment problems at the Danville water plant … with means to address those concerns at the plant."

The city’s requested study seeks "recommendations … on how the city could sustain a prolonged river contamination event, including feasibility of installing additional water storage facilities, construction of public access points at system connections with neighboring utilities for filling water containers …"

If all of that seems to make a lot of sense, that’s because it does make sense. But it would have made even more sense six months — or better yet — six years ago.

The assumption we all had about the quality of Danville’s water treatment system was based on annual water test results.

But this requested study tells us that Danville’s government never spent enough time — or any time at all — contemplating what threats to the city’s water supply lurked upstream.