The coal ash pond dewatering project started back up nearly a week ago at the now-defunct Georgia Power Company Plant Harllee Branch, but because of excessive rainfall in recent days, some changes have had to be made.
In keeping with agreements between Georgia Power Company and officials with the Georgia Department of Environmental Protection Division (EPD), company officials notified them earlier this week about the need to bypass the Plant Branch coal ash pond dewatering wastewater treatment system due to excessive precipitation.
Consumers who get drinking water from Sinclair Water Authority received a letter from Joey Witcher, plant manager at Sinclair Water Authority, informing them of the notice that EPD officials received from Georgia Power Company.
“Sinclair Water Authority (SWA) management received the following notice on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, from Margie DeBerry, environmental compliance specialist with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, concerning conditions at the Plant Branch suite in Putnam County,” Witcher said in his correspondence to consumers.
DeBerry said the message was sent to drinking water facilities that have surface water intakes on, near or downstream of Lake Sinclair.
“The current plan was to begin discharging through outfall No. 003” on Wednesday morning, according to DeBerry. “It was unknown at the time of the call if they would also need to begin discharging from their emergency outfalls authorized under the NPDES permit; outfall No. 05 for Ash Pond E; outfall No. 04 for Ash Pond C; and or outfall for No. 06 for Pond B. Georgia Power has stated that they will be conducting in stream lake sampling at the locations specified in their dewatering plan.”
The old plant and its ash ponds are located near the Putnam-Baldwin County line, along U.S. Highway 441.
Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft telephoned The Union-Recorder shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday and confirmed that the dewatering process had resumed last Sunday.
“But, with 21 inches of rainfall in the past 2 1/2 months, and two-plus inches this week that has led us to what we’ve done today (Wednesday) in notifying the regulators and local authorities that we’re beginning this stormwater discharge,” Kraft said.
He said some of those informed included EPD, Sinclair Water Authority and local city and county officials.
“All of this is being done under our permits,” Kraft said.
Asked when Georgia Power might resume the dewatering process, Kraft said that likely depends on how much more rain the area receives over the next several days.
More rain is in the forecast for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, according to weather experts.
“We are continuously monitoring the ponds, weather forecast, etc.,” Kraft said. “We’ll definitely keep on top of it.”
As the water rises within the coal ash ponds, Georgia Power officials are able to control the level of the ponds through the stormwater discharges.
“These stormwater discharges are going into the lake, per our permits,” Kraft said. “We do testing of the discharge and we do additional sampling of the lake itself to make sure that everything is as expected.”
DeBerry said in the notice sent to Sinclair Water Authority earlier this week that Georgia Power is required to sample certain metals in its discharge permit.
Those metals include arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium and zinc.
Since June 2019, Sinclair Water Authority has sampled regularly for those metals as well, according to Witcher.
“These samples are collected from Lake Sinclair near our intake facility,” Witcher said. “SWA normally samples monthly when Georgia Power is not discharging from the dewatering wastewater treatment system and weekly when they are discharging. SWA will be increasing the frequency of sampling to three times weekly, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, during this emergency bypass event. The first sample was collected Feb. 19 after receiving the notification.”
Anyone with questions or concerns is asked to email Sinclair Water Authority at sinclairwaterauthority.com.