The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed new federal regulations for the management and disposal of coal combustion wastes, often referred to as coal ash. Coal ash is generated in South Dakota at coal-fired power plants. Information about the newly proposed federal regulations for coal ash can be found at http://www.epa.gov/coalashrule. The period to comment on the proposed regulations has been extended until November 19, 2010. The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources submitted comments to the EPA on November 17, 2010.
Because of the proposed federal regulations, the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has responded to several information requests regarding coal ash disposal in South Dakota from a consultant working for the Environmental Integrity Project. The Environmental Integrity Project’s consultant asked for a significant amount of information about the Big Stone Power Plant operated by the Otter Tail Power Company near Big Stone City, SD.
Based on press releases, it is apparent the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and Sierra Club are going to allege there are ground water impacts occurring as a result of coal ash disposal at the Big Stone Power plant. That allegation is not true. Therefore, to set the record straight, DENR is sharing with the public all information provided to the Environmental Integrity Project consultant.
Specifically, the Environmental Integrity Project is suggesting some of the data provided to the organization shows there has been groundwater impacts at the Big Stone Power Plant as a result of the disposal of coal ash at the facility. However, ground water data collected at the plant shows there has not been any impacts on ground water from the coal ash disposal practices at the Big Stone Power plant.
In other places in the United States, the power companies add water to the fly ash and then store the slurry in large containment ponds. A few of these ponds have failed recently. That practice is not occurring at Big Stone Power. Instead, fly ash from the plant is taken in dry form and put into a landfill in accordance with a state-issued solid waste permit approved by the Board of Minerals and Environment. The solid waste permit requires monitoring of ground water around the landfill. The ground water monitoring data shows there has not been any contamination of the ground water from fly ash landfill.
The Environmental Integrity Project’s consultant is incorrectly alleging ground water impacts from a release from a brine pond that occurred more than 20 years ago are instead from the coal ash landfill. That allegation is not true and is easily refuted in the reports filed for the facility and provided to the Environmental Integrity Project’s consultant.
As explained to the Environmental Integrity Project’s consultant, Big Stone Power must treat water prior to using it in its plant. As a result of that treatment process, Big Stone Power currently maintains two lined ponds, called brine ponds, where the remnants from the water softening treatment process are placed. Prior to 1988, a single brine pond was not lined. As a result, water from the brine pond was leaking out of the bottom of the pond, resulting in impacts to the ground water. Once this was discovered, additional ground water monitoring was required for this area and currently continues to monitor the impacts from the brine pond.
The Environmental Integrity Project is taking the ground water quality data gathered from brine pond release that occurred more than 20 years ago and is using that information to support its position regarding the new rules being considered by the EPA for coal ash disposal. The water treatment process used by Big Stone Power has nothing to do with its coal ash disposal practices and in no way should be used to support any new regulations for coal ash disposal.
The Environmental Integrity Project’s consultant is also trying to allege that naturally occurring high levels of sulfate and metals found in the ground water at the Big Stone Power plant is a result of coal ash disposal. However, that is not true either. The groundwater quality in the area around the Big Stone Power Plant is highly mineralized, very hard, and high in sulfates. This is very typical of ground water found in glacial till in eastern South Dakota. The high sulfate and metal levels found upgradient from the Big Stone Power plant is a result of naturally-occurring factors, and not as a result of any coal ash disposal at the plant. This position again is supported by the extensive ground water monitoring conducted at the plant that shows conclusively that ground water upgradient from the plant shows the naturally-occurring ground water is high in sulfate and metal levels.
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If you have any questions related to the coal ash disposal practices used at Big Stone Power or the ground water information provided on this website, contact Jim Wendte by e-mail or by calling (605) 773-3153.