Winyah Rivers Foundation (Waccamaw RIVERKEEPER®) has been working to prevent and cleanup pollution from fossil-fueled energy sources like coal and natural gas throughout our watershed. As a licensed member of WATERKEEPER® Alliance, we are proponents of its Clean and Safe Energy Campaign, focusing on shifting away from our reliance on dirty fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, towards more environmentally sustainable resources.
In North Carolina, we have focused our clean and safe energy efforts on two major pollution sources: 1) coal combustion residuals cleanup at the former W.H. Weatherspoon Steam Electric Generating Station; and 2) prevention of pollution from hydraulically fractured gas and the pipeline proposed to carry “fracked” gas into our watershed. Both have caused, or have the potential to cause, serious harm to the environment, the rivers we are working to protect and the communities that rely on clean water for drinking and recreation.
Coal Ash Cleanup on the Lumber River:
Coal combustion residuals (“coal ash”) from burning coal in power plants have been commonly disposed of in unlined pits adjacent to the plants’ cooling water sources, our rivers. Coal ash toxins (e.g., Arsenic, Lead, Mercury, Chromium, Vanadium) leach into underlying groundwater and pollute aquifers. These toxins also seep into surface water through the earthen berms that purport to contain coal ash and, worse yet, the berms and/or piping breach discharging large quantities of hazardous waste into our rivers.
That was the case with the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill in December 2008 and again with Duke Energy’s Dan River coal ash spill in February 2014 near Eden, NC. Both incidents raised our awareness and prompted action from the North Carolina Riverkeepers to address pollution problems with coal ash sites in our watersheds. We were spurred on not only by the evidence of groundwater and surface water pollution but also by our success convincing Santee Cooper to clean up its coal ash mess adjacent to the Waccamaw River in Conway, SC.
Located adjacent to the Lumber River was the Weatherspoon plant and its associated coal ash pits. Winyah Rivers and Southern Environmental Law Center took legal action against the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (now Department of Environmental Quality) and Duke Energy to force cleanup of the Weatherspoon site. Our lawsuits put legal pressure on DEQ and Duke while our community organizing applied public pressure. Ultimately Duke agreed that the coal ash at Weatherspoon poses a current and future hazard to our river and its downstream communities. As a result, Weatherspoon’s coal ash will be excavated and removed from the site and future threats to the health of the Lumber River and its communities will be eliminated. However, there remains uncertainty regarding the deadline for this cleanup, perhaps as late as 2028, a full 10 years later than an earlier deadline of 2019. We remain vigilant, closely following all of the maneuvering on the part of the state government, NC Department of Environmental Quality, and Duke Energy.
Winyah Rivers remains committed to cleaning up and preventing pollution of our federally designated Wild and Scenic and state designated Natural and Scenic Lumber River. We continue to advocate to keep our rivers fishable, swimmable and drinkable for our families and our future.
FrackFreeNC and the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline:
When fracking reared its ugly head in North Carolina, we took notice and partnered with FrackFreeNC to raise awareness within our watershed to the potential for serious environmental harm to our watersheds and our communities. Our activities included community organizing, attending hearings, and commenting on state/federal reports about the environmental impacts of fracking.
When the threat of fracking in NC waned as a result of community opposition and fracking studies, we turned our attention to the potential for construction of a pipeline to bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania and West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina. The proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline impacts the Lumber River watershed, crossing significant and sensitive wetlands and terminating near Pembroke. These wetlands drain into the Lumber upstream of the drinking water supply for the City of Lumberton.
We are raising awareness of the potential for serious environmental harm from this proposed pipeline. Our actions include developing a coalition with anti-pipeline activists and pressuring the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to address its pipeline approval process, particularly its needs assessment and the use of eminent domain by for-profit companies, and to more fully identify environmental impacts associated with pipeline construction, road building and access, and pipeline operations.
The fight continues as we mount various direct and indirect actions against the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline with an end goal to stop this unnecessary and risky pipeline.
By stopping the polluting effects of fossil fuel extraction, consumption, transport and disposal, we will protect waterways and communities in North Carolina and support a global economic transition to a no-carbon future that utilizes clean and safe energy.