Waccamaw River crests without overtopping coal ash pond 2

Second ash pond expected to overtop - Patrick Lloyd

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Santee Cooper officials say that water from the Waccamaw River has not overtopped into the second coal ash ponds in Conway as it was originally thought too.

In a press release, it is said that the AquaDam that was installed to help prevent the water from going into the ash pond worked.

No water got into Ash Pond 2, where there is still ash.  The water you may have seen is water that we pumped into the pond to equalize pressure on the dike.  NOAA reports the Waccamaw River crested in Conway and that it did not overtop Pond 2, which still holds about 200,000 tons of ash. We’re sampling twice a day, upstream and right at the ponds.  We’ll continue to do that until we return to normal operations, but that also includes regular testing, just less frequently.
Santee Cooper

In a release Santee Cooper says they took several steps to prepare for the flooding, including filling both ponds with water to stabilize the dikes, drawing baseline water and sediment samples from the ponds and river, placing floating containment boom throughout the ponds, and installing an AquaDam and silt fencing on top of Pond 2. The AquaDam added more than 30 inches in height to the Pond 2 dike and prevented the river from overtopping the dike.

The release goes on to say that at the rivers crest, the remained at least a foot below the top of the AquaDam. The AquaDam is continuing to function as it should, and Santee Cooper is still monitoring it and both dikes. The river flowed overtop Santee Cooper’s Grainger plant Pond 1, which was empty of stored ash, on Friday.

Santee Cooper will continue to sample water and sediment quality in the ponds and in the river while it dewaters the ponds, keeping pace with the river receding. Sampling results so far are all within permitted requirements.

Once the ponds are dewatered, Santee Cooper will return to the ash excavation project, which it started in 2014 and accelerated after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Most of that ash is being beneficially reused by the cement and concrete products industry. Before the flood, the excavation was set to be complete by early next year. The DHEC-approved closure plan calls for Santee Cooper to return the area to wetlands.
Santee Cooper

The utility company originally predicted the overtopping to take place Tuesday afternoon, but as of Tuesday at 10 p.m., that still had not happened.

Tracy Vreeland with Santee Cooper told WMBF News Tuesday night, “It could be that pond 2 doesn’t overtop.”

That’s because the river didn’t rise as quickly as originally expected.

Frank Holleman with the Southern Environmental Law Center is familiar with situations like this. He says when river waters mix with coal ash ponds, health risks are possible.

“If enough of the ash escapes, it can impact downstream drinking water supplies for some period of time,” Holleman said.

But Waccamaw Riverkeeper Cara Schildtknecht says she isn’t too worried about health risks.

“We’re not so concerned with human health right now or even drinking water, but it could have major impacts on the ecology,” Schildtknecht said.

Santee Cooper also removed thousands of tons of coal ash from pond 2 over the last several years, which would make the impacts less harmful should overtopping occur.

“I think if they wouldn’t have already been so proactive in removing that coal ash, we’d be facing a completely different problem. It would be devastating,” Schildtknecht said.

Santee Cooper is continuing to monitor the river levels.

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