Duke Energy must supply an Asheville, NC, residence with alternative drinking water after testing showed the home’s private well ended up contaminated, North Carolina state officials said.
The well is between the utility’s coal ash storage ponds at its Asheville power plant and the nearby French Broad River.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) directed Duke to provide safe drinking water to the home’s residents by Nov. 15, the agency said. Testing of four other wells in the area showed the water meets federal and state drinking water standards.
Officials also directed the utility in a letter to install monitoring wells offsite from its property to determine the type and extent of contamination in the area and provide DENR with an assessment plan by Dec. 8.
“Our sampling has revealed an accumulation of evidence that raises the level of concern about the contamination and its source,” said agency spokesman Jamie Kritzer. “Taking this action now is the prudent response based on the evidence we have gathered to date to make sure we are protecting people’s health in that area.”
Groundwater contamination from coal ash lagoons has been the subject of controversy and a lawsuit brought by the state against the utility.
Duke’s Lake Julian plant in Asheville has two coal ash ponds. One built in 1964 covers 45 acres, and the other constructed in 1982 is 46 acres. At spots, the ash is 60 feet deep, and together the lagoons can hold some 450 million gallons.
The complaint filed in March states that continued operation of the Lake Julian plant and Duke’s Riverbend facility in Gaston County in violation of state groundwater standards “without assessing the problem and taking corrective action poses a serious danger to the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state of North Carolina and serious harm to the water resources of the state.”
The lawsuit also claims inspectors found seeps of chemicals making their way to the French Broad River. A judge is considering a settlement of the complaint proposed by the state.
DNER said the requirements in its letter to Duke on Wednesday “are consistent with the approach the state agency has already proposed in the draft consent order” to address the contamination.
State environmental officials sampled five water supply wells near the Lake Julian plant. According to the agency, the testing of a well at one home “indicated the presence of iron and magnesium in concentrations considered by federal standards unsafe to drink without filtration.”
Testing of another well revealed the presence of the compound thallium at levels considered safe but “still atypical in groundwater in the Asheville area.”
“Samples taken at the compliance boundary wells on Duke Energy’s property also indicated the presence of iron, manganese and thallium,” the agency said.
Kritzer said it’s up to Duke to determine how to provide an alternative drinking water source to the affected home.
But testing late last year first determined the residence’s well had elevated levels of contaminants, he said. They notified the homeowner at that time, and a home water filtration system ended up installed, Kritzer said.
Duke spokesman Erin Culbert said Wednesday the utility shares the state’s objective of protecting human health.
The contaminants found in the well are “naturally occurring and common in North Carolina soils,” she said.
“The state is taking a conservative approach, and protecting drinking water is always Duke Energy’s priority,” Culbert said. “We will comply with the state’s directives and will initiate the groundwater assessment activities that were already planned.”
Culbert also said the “vast majority” of people living around the power plant use a municipal water system.