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Santee Cooper said water will overtop a coal ash pond. What that means for the Waccamaw

Water pumps are working to remove water from the Waccamaw River as part of a larger plan to curb flooding due to Tropical Depression Florence.
Water pumps are working to remove water from the Waccamaw River as part of a larger plan to curb flooding due to Tropical Depression Florence. jbell@thesunnews.com

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Santee Cooper are working to prevent coal ash from reaching the Waccamaw River.

Floodwaters were expected to reach the Grainger Ash Pond 2 sometime Tuesday, according to Santee Cooper and NOAA projections. However, it does not mean coal ash has entered the river, a news release said.

Santee Cooper believes that it has taken enough preventative measures to make sure this doesn’t have a strong impact on the environment. These efforts include an AquaDam, reinforcing the dyke keeping ash out of the Waccamaw and staging equipment to provide more reinforcement to retention walls, if needed.

“Santee Cooper is working with DHEC, downstream water users, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper and other stakeholders as this situation develops,” the release said.

The SCDNR also announced it has banned boating near ash ponds in Conway.

The ash ponds are near the Santee Cooper Generating Station, right outside downtown Conway. The boating ban applies to the portion of the Waccamaw River between U.S. 501 Bypass and U.S. 501 Business.

The worry is that boat traffic will “degrade flood berms” holding the ash ponds back, potentially allowing further contamination of the river water. A berm is basically a raised separation barrier.

If the berm breaks due to wake in the water or a boat hitting it, ash could reach the Waccamaw.

“Until rescinded, no vessel or person will be permitted to enter the Vessel Exclusionary Zone,” the news release said.

Once water recedes, the order will be lifted.

Already, coal ash from ponds in North Carolina have entered local rivers, although Duke Energy said Sunday that no coal ash entered the Cape Fear River. Further, pollutants from farms, homes and storm runoff can make floodwaters dangerously contaminated.

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It should be noted that any boat traffic should be mindful of the wake created by motor engines. Wake can further damage flooded homes.

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