One of the most frequently asked questions about the Potomac River is, “Can I eat the fish?” Well, you may not want to. In addition to urban runoff and sewage spills, there’s this.
Dominion Power owns and operates the Possum Point Power plant located between Quantico Creek and the Potomac River. Power plants were located close to water systems for water to heat to produce electricity and to cool power generators. The plant burned coal from 1955 to 2003. Coal ash is disposed of in five retention “ponds”, basically holes in the ground, holding over a billion gallons of toxic coal ash and contaminated water. Coal ash contains metals that are toxic at high levels, including lead, arsenic, chromium, selenium and vanadium.\
Although switching to natural gas in 2003, the ponds are still being used to store millions of tons of this toxic slurry just a few feet from Quantico Creek. Some ponds were lined to prevent toxin leaching. Quantico Creek water samples show the presence of coal ash pollutants. In 2014, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network discovered all five ponds were seeping directly into the creek or leaching coal ash waste into local groundwater around the facility, resulting in groundwater contamination and illegal surface water discharges from the site.
This is when the ash hit the fan. Complaints were filed in advance of Dominion applying for a permit to drain the ponds into Quantico Creek by the Potomac River Fisheries Commission (PRFC), Maryland, the Potomac Riverkeeper (PRKN), and Virginia State Senator Scott Surovell.
After a brief notification period, comments protesting the permit to allow the wastewater to flow began, but Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) found the Dominion process to be adequate. Apparently determining toxic chemicals can be diluted in the Potomac watershed.
The PRKR reported that earlier this year, prior to DEQ approval, Dominion revealed it dumped 33.7 million gallons of untreated coal ash wastewater in May 2015 into Quantico Creek. Dominion Power then met privately with Virginia DEQ on February 3rd and revised its number to 27.5 million gallons, which is still more contaminated coal ash water than was spilled into the Dan River by Duke Energy in 2014. Dominion didn’t publicly acknowledge this dumping until after they received DEQ approval on January 14th 2016.
This is a two round fight. The first round goes to Dominion as they are permitted to dump 200 million treated gallons of pond water into the creek. The second round is all about the solid waste portion of the ash. Dominion’s proposal calls for a cap in place procedure. This basically buries the ash and covers it to prevent it from being disturbed. Many don’t see how this can be effective especially since the ponds are either unlined or have older liners, limited by the technology of the day and their age. Since the Clean Water Act requires the use of the best available technology, many interpret this action to be at worst ineffective in protecting the environment and illegal at best. A precedent has been set by the massive Duke Power coal ash spill into North Carolina’s Dan River in 2014 resulting in over $100 million in fines.
In spite of the DEQ and Dominion assuring water quality for human and aquatic health, questions are being raised about the high levels of ash byproducts in fish and how this may affect the valuable fishing resource. Specifically, the PRFC is asking the DEQ to present testing documentation about the impact on specific endangered species including the Atlantic and short nose sturgeon.
However, Maryland, which owns most of the Tidal Potomac River, has withdrawn their appeal to stop Dominion. The Petition for Appeal raised concerns regarding the potential discharge of coal ash pollutants from ponds to groundwater that could affect water quality within Quantico Creek or the Potomac River. Some say they withdrew because their motion came outside the legal comment period, but Maryland says otherwise. They say subsequent measures have been taken by DEQ, Dominion, and the EPA that address their concerns. DEQ has further discussed its intent to engage Maryland during this permitting process as groundwater monitoring and surface water monitoring safeguards are included to protect Quantico Creek and the Potomac River. In discussions with DEQ and Dominion, Maryland is seeking a Memorandum of Agreement that would result in increased monitoring for Potomac River health by sampling fish tissue, water quality and sediments.
At this time, other than Sen. Surovell, not many political representatives have stepped up. Campaign contributions from Dominion have been suspect for the lack of outrage. In fact, on March 14, 2016, WAMU88.5FM News broke a story on the relationship between DEQ and Dominion citing public disclosure documents reporting Dominion paid for a 2013 dining and a golf outing ($3500) for David Paylor, the head of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality. To stay on top of this potentially disastrous action, follow the Potomac Riverkeeper, Dean Naujoks firstname.lastname@example.org. Until then, eat more chicken.
Potomac River Bassing in AUGUST
Hot hazy and humid. Find shaded areas like grass mats and pad fields. Mann’s Hollow Super Frogs on 60-pound GAMMA Torque braid will haul big ones out the entire day. Punching on the same line with a stout Mustad Flipping hook and 1 ounce Round Valley Tungsten weight will also work in thick mats.
Early mornings try poppers like Lucky Craft G-Splash in clearer areas. Crank Lucky Craft BDS 4 on 16-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line down to submerged grass at higher tides.
Skip weightless stickworms, soaked in Jack’s Juice, under cover like docks and allow to drop. Watch for bites. Slowly crawl chatterjigs and swim jigs like Mann’s Stone jig with Mann’s HardNose Mullets through the grass and snap free. Craw patterns work. Use either braid or 16-pound Edge.
Other times use Mann’s Baby –Minus cranks over cover.
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.