By Steve Chaconas
The Potomac River appears to be a pristine waterway, the clear result of 1960s Clean Water legislation. Subaquatic vegetation and better awareness has resulted in a cleaner river that President Lyndon Johnson had called a “national disgrace!” Now eyes are being directed toward a potentially disastrous event that could soon take place. It isn’t an accident, but rather an approved dumping into the Potomac that supplies drinking water to millions of people in the D.C. area.
Possum Point is a Potomac hotspot, literally. In 1948, Dominion Virginia Power opened the 650-acre Possum Point Power Station on the Potomac near Quantico, Virginia. Today the natural gas and oil fired steam electric generating station uses Quantico Creek waters to cool its generators. Water in this area stays in the 50s while the rest of the river falls below 40. Through 2003 when the facility ceased using coal, Dominion deposited approximately 3.7 million cubic yards of coal ash, the byproduct of burning coal, into 4 unlined ponds. Later a lined 5th pond was constructed. Water flows into the ponds and possibly drains into the watershed. New Federal guidelines have forced Dominion to remove the material. The company says it “plans to remove the water and treat it on-site using a multi-stage process according to stringent, government-mandated levels before discharge.”
Last May, Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks sampled an unpermitted discharge at the Dominion site. He presented findings to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Department of Public Health regarding an engineered “toe drain” discharging toxic metals, including cadmium, selenium, arsenic, vanadium and boron. These ponds have the capacity to hold over a billion gallons of toxic coal ash and wastewater. The report, conducted by Environmental Stewardship Concepts, claims the pond discharge “displayed elevated levels of metals and minerals” and that Quantico Creek “seems to have been contaminated with metals and minerals, and the most obvious and logical source is the water running off from the berm area”. The Riverkeeper accuses DEQ of ignoring action against Dominion and instead approving a draft permit to allow draining into Quantico Creek. DEQ says, “The draft permit will ensure that water quality standards are met, and that human health and the environment are protected.” There is an extensive permitting process including limits on and monitoring of released water. To further protect the health of waterways, fish, birds and other animals, permits from the DEQ, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, local jurisdictions, and other state agencies are required.
Two well-known American coal ash spills have occurred. A 2008 dam breach in Kingston, Tennessee resulted in 5.4 million cubic yards being dumped into the Emory and Clinch Rivers. In February 2014, a pipe in a coal ash pond ruptured and 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River that flows into Virginia. Duke Power was fined $102 million and people still can’t drink water from the river.
Last month the Virginia State Water Control Board approved Dominion’s permit to drain over 100 million gallons of treated wastewater into Quantico Creek. This action was taken in the face of opposition from hundreds of public commenters and almost two dozen state and local agencies. Martin Gary, executive secretary of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission raised concerns about discharges in an area that is “located at the heart of a historical spawning reach for Atlantic striped bass.” In addition, Gary said recent fisheries surveys have found endangered Atlantic sturgeon in the Quantico Creek mouth. Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ 8-page letter opposed the permit, detailing the impact heavy metals and other toxins can have on aquatic and human health in and along the states’ shared river and the Chesapeake Bay. DEQ did not respond to Prince William County’s request for 60 additional days to review Dominion’s proposal.
If the Riverkeeper’s assessment is accurate, irreparable damage to the creek’s ecosystem and eventually the Potomac could potentially take place. These toxins remain in the environment, contaminating future waterlife generations. Dominion intends to “cap-in-place” tons of toxic coal ash stored at Possum Point. This instead of moving the ash into a lined solid waste landfill away from the Potomac River like Duke Energy and other utilities have been required to do in North and South Carolina.
Opposing the permit, VA State Senator Scott Surovell was disappointed the Water Control Board ignored pleas from Prince William County, Town of Quantico, Maryland DNR, Potomac River Fisheries Commission, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and numerous environmental organizations in granting this permit. “Once you dump heavy metals into the river, they never can come back out. I think this is a short-sighted mistake.” Water is still muddy as newspapers report Prince William and the Riverkeeper are filing lawsuits and appealing the decision to wade into troubled waters.
Potomac River Bassing in February
Water cooled in January. Tie on Silver Buddy lures, ½ ounce silver in clearer water on sunny days, gold when clouds are present or water is slightly stained.
Then it’s Mann’s Stingray Grubs on ¼ ounce ball head jigs, Mizmo tubes with insert heads, Punisher Hair jigs and Mizmo Barbwire shaky heads with Doodle worms. Soak baits in Jack’s Juice Bait Spray. Use 6-pound test GAMMA Edge fluorocarbon line on Quantum EXO spinning gear. Spraying line with Real Magic makes cold weather casting easier.
In warmer discharge areas like Quantico Creek, Blue Plains and Four Mile Run, use Lucky Craft Pointer 78 suspending jerkbaits and Lucky Craft Bevy Shad crankbaits in deeper spots. Vary pauses. Use the same 6-pound test line and make long casts.
Dropshot with 1/0 Mustad Mega bite hooks with 5 inch Mizmo Doodle worms on Edge 6 pound test. A 3/16 or ¼ ounce Water Gremlin BullShot weight will keep this presentation in the same spot a while. Leaders about 6 inches.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide & contributing writer for BoatU.S. (BoatUS.com) Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.