As Dominion Virginia Power works to re-tool its $35 million system for treating water steeped in coal ash at its Possum Point power station, environmentalists are sounding the alarm about what the delay could mean for the health of nearby waterways. The company pressed “pause” on efforts to treat wastewater from its coal-ash ponds in September, with Dominion officials claiming that they needed more time to improve the process for removing dangerous heavy metals from the water drained from those ponds.

Dominion is hoping to ultimately move ahead with a plan to drain, consolidate and seal the five ponds it uses to store coal ash, the waste material generated when the plant once burned coal.

But Dean Naujoks, the Potomac Riverkeeper for the conservationists at the Potomac Riverkeepers Network, warns that Dominion’s delay could have dire consequences.Since the company has steadily consolidated the bulk of the ash and wastewater from its five ponds into one, known as “pond D,” Naujoks worries that any pause in releasing water from that pond could seriously strain its structural integrity.

He says aerial photographs of the pond from last month show that it’s “never been more full to capacity in its entire lifespan than it is right now,” and he’s hoping to arrange another flyover this week to further study the pond condition. “This pond has never been tested like this,” Naujoks said. “They can choose to ignore it; but if there’s a catastrophic breach, they’re going to look like fools.” He believes the driving rain of Hurricane Matthew exacerbated that problem this fall and additional precipitation through the winter could push the pond to its breaking point.

But Jason Williams, an environmental manager for Dominion, contends that there is “significant space” in the pond and dismisses Naujoks’ concerns. “Even though we haven’t released water since September, we haven’t even gotten back up to where we were when we started treating,” Williams said. “So we have no concerns at all about the delay on removing the water.”

”Prince William County officials were particularly concerned about the levels of selenium they noticed in the released wastewater. …But after the company announced its water treatment and release plans to great fanfare in May, Naujoks is skeptical that Dominion would shut down the process unless something is seriously wrong.

Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi is more willing to give the company the benefit of the doubt, though he noted that he does expect Dominion to ask the board of county supervisors for “an amendment to the negotiated settlement” once they are ready to launch the new treatment system. State DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden said they are also hoping for an update “once the changes have been worked out.” (Story continued on

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