State regulators have cited Duke Energy three days after an environmental group released photos showing workers pumping water out of coal ash ponds.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources says the utility released an estimated 61 million gallons of wastewater into a tributary of the Cape Fear River.
On Monday, the Waterkeeper Alliance released photos taken by Rick Dove of New Bern that showed the utility pumping water out of two coal ash ponds.
When contacted by WITN on Monday, Duke said crews were in fact using a temporary pumping system to lower water levels. Duke says they needed to perform maintenance on some pipes and that they have a permit to do so.
But state regulators say the utility by law can only discharge treated wastewater from the ponds.
DENR has notified municipalities downstream, including Sanford, Fayetteville, and Wilmington about the discharge. The state says so far no municipalities have reported any drinking water problems.
The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources is investigating whether Duke Energy illegally dumped coal ash into a tributary that eventually goes into the Cape Fear River.
Photographer Rick Dove was flying over the Duke plant near the river last week when he noticed something that wasn't quite right. That's when he started taking pictures.
"While I was flying over there, something really struck me," says Dove. "There were two trucks parked right at the coal ash pond and they had a huge pump pumping out from the coal ash pond into what appears to be a tributary to the Cape Fear River."
WITN spoke to Duke Energy who says crews were in fact using a temporary pumping system to lower water levels. Duke says they needed to perform maintenance on some pipes and that they have a permit to do so.
Dove, who often takes pictures for the Waterkeeper Alliance, says he's skeptical.
"Coal ash is a very dangerous thing. Once it gets into a river, it can actually pollute that river for 100 or more years," explains Dove. "The toxins that are contained in coal ash are the kinds of toxins that will deny you the use of the river for drinking water, for fishing, for swimming, for a long, long time."
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources says Duke Energy does have a permit that allows them to discharge "treated" wastewater from coal ash that eventually goes into the Cape Fear River for some routine maintenance. They're investigating this week whether Duke is doing so legally and if the pipe would constitute routine maintenance or not.
Discharge of untreated wastewater would be a violation of Duke Energy's permit. The Waterkeeper Alliance says that's what appears to be going on in the photos taken by Rick Dove.
The DENR's investigation should be completed later this week.