Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Protecting Our Waterways When Disaster Strikes

Protecting Our Waterways When Disaster Strikes

In 2014 alone, there have been a series of unprecedented disasters on our waterways. A climate of lax government regulations including the recent weak rule for the disposal of toxic coal ash from coal-fired power plants by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, makes it critical for us to find a way to protect communities and the integrity of our waterways when a water emergency strikes.

Pete Harrison (L) of Waterkeeper Alliance and Justin Quinlivan of Yadkin Riverkeeper on the scene responding to the Dan River coal ash spill. Photo credit: Brian Williams / Dan River Basin Association

When a chemical used to wash coal (4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM) leaked into the Elk River in West Virginia from a storage facility in January 2014, more than 300,000 residents were suddenly left without water to drink. As MCHM is not listed in EPA's public database of toxic chemicals and is not federally regulated, this incident showcased just how vulnerable we all are to facing a similar fate.

The rapidly increasing volume of toxic, volatile crude oil by rail and barge has upped the ante on the risk of future accidents even more.

And this past February, a collapsed stormwater pipe released 140,000 tons of toxic coal ash sludge and wastewater into the Dan River in North Carolina, a public drinking water supply for downstream communities like Danville, Virginia. State regulators and Duke Energy, the company responsible for the spill, waited more than 24 hours before notifying the public that it had happened. And just weeks after this catastrophic spill, Waterkeeper Alliance discovered that Duke Energy had deliberately and illegally dumped 61 million gallons of coal ash into the Cape Fear River.

Waterkeeper Alliance is taking action to be part of the solution by launching a rapid response program based on its proven protocol in responding to and remediating some of the nation's worst waterway disasters. Waterkeeper Alliance staff and local Waterkeepers provided on-the-ground support, water quality testing, and advocacy for the Dan River incident and in Lynchburg, Virginia, when a train carrying volatile Bakken crude oil derailed and exploded, spilling an estimated 50,000 gallons of oil into the James River. In past years, Waterkeepers have responded to Hurricanes Floyd and Sandy and the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Deploying a highly-trained team of advocates and experts by boat and aircraft to assess a situation, test the water, document the impact and rapidly share information with the media and the public allows Waterkeeper Alliance to work quickly to amplify the voice of affected communities, dispersing the truth about the impacts and dangers in real time and ensuring that polluters and government officials don't have the opportunity to downplay or cover up the threat. The response team then advocates for the waterway and affected communities until a cleanup plan is implemented. This requires a myriad of advocacy actions, including filing lawsuits and pursuing legislative remedies.

As a result of rapid response work by Waterkeeper Alliance and North Carolina Waterkeepers on the Dan River, Duke Energy has agreed to clean up not only the spill site but also three other sites with leaking coal ash ponds in Asheville, Charlotte and Wilmington.

Throughout history, the biggest wins for our environment have been the result of citizens advocating for their rights. As always, people are the last line of defense when communities are under assault from polluters. Please join us in helping to defend communities across the country and around the world.

A deadly tornado touched down near the city of Fultondale, Alabama on Jan. 25, 2021. Justin1569 / Wikipedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

A tornado tore through a city north of Birmingham, Alabama, Monday night, killing one person and injuring at least 30.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

An empty school bus by a field of chemical plants in "Cancer Alley," one of the most polluted areas of the U.S. that stretches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, where oil refineries and petrochemical plants reside alongside suburban homes. Giles Clarke / Getty Images

By David Konisky

On his first day in office President Joe Biden started signing executive orders to reverse Trump administration policies. One sweeping directive calls for stronger action to protect public health and the environment and hold polluters accountable, including those who "disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities."

Read More Show Less

Trending

Pixabay

By Katherine Kornei

Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.

Read More Show Less
Icebergs near Ilulissat, Greenland on Oct. 13, 2020. Climate change is having a profound effect with glaciers and the Greenland ice cap retreating. Ulrik Pedersen / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.

Read More Show Less
Caribbean islands such as Trinidad have plenty of water for swimming, but locals face water shortages for basic needs. Marc Guitard / Getty Images

By Jewel Fraser

Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.

Read More Show Less