Duke begins water delivery to families near ash ponds

Published 12:10 am Thursday, May 14, 2015

By Josh Bergeron


DUKEVILLE — Duke Energy this week began delivering bottled water to families near Buck Steam Station after a state agency declared 32 water wells in the area unsafe.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Duke Energy was providing water to 19 of the 32 families who have well water which has been declared unsafe by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Duke Energy Spokesperson Erin Culbert said about 80 families near coal ash ponds statewide are now receiving bottled water.

The bottled water will continue until Buck Steam Station wraps up a groundwater assessment that’s currently underway, Culbert said. The assessment is scheduled to wrap up in the fall.

James and Margaret Gobble, who live on Dukeville Road, received a batch of water on Tuesday afternoon from a third-party company contracted with Duke. The family received seven cases of water, with 24 bottles in each case. A notice given to families who received water stated that bottles would be provided every two weeks. The allocation from Duke equates to about one gallon per day, according to the notice.

“All I’ve been interested in is for Duke to do what’s right,” James Gobble said. “This is just a start. I know it’s going to take time for the company to get city water to run out to us, and that’s what should be the permanent solution.”

If Buck Steam Station’s groundwater assessment shows the plant contributed to the test results, Culbert said Duke would consider building a water line that connects to homes near coal ash ponds. The closest Salisbury-Rowan Utilities water line sits about a mile away from the Gobble’s house, near I-85.

The most common contaminant listed on test results is vanadium — occurring naturally and in coal ash. Letters also include abnormal levels of hexavalent chromium. Both compounds are toxic at certain exposure levels, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Through Culbert, Duke Energy has continued its claim that the plant is not the cause for test results exceeding drinking standards.

“All these substances are naturally occurring as well as in ash, so the groundwater studies under way now are critical in determining their origin and whether neighbors’ wells are even in the direction groundwater is flowing,” Culbert said. “Nearly all the wells tested by the state meet federal drinking water standards that regulate tap water. This has been confusing for residents because the state’s groundwater standards and health screening levels are much more stringent than the federal ones for some substances.”

Margaret Gobble likened the water allocation to a bandaid covering up a wound.

Despite the fact that Leonard Road resident Reggie Gobble lives a few hundred yards from a coal ash pond, Duke Energy won’t provide bottled water to his personal residence. Reggie Gobble, however, owns rental houses that are receiving an allocation from Duke. His house was the only one of the 34 letters delivered so far that stated well water was safe for consumption.

Reggie Gobble’s rental houses were declared unsafe to drink and every neighboring house also received letter stating water was unsafe.

“I’m the only one that I know of that’s not getting water,” he said. “It makes me wonder if the tests were even accurate, when the only one that was OK is right next to the ash pond.”

Reggie Gobble said he’s continued to use his water for common household tasks, but has recently reconsidered whether it’s safe even though test results say his well is OK for consumption. Neighboring test results showing well water as unsafe and his proximity to the ash pond are cause for concern, Reggie Gobble said.

A total of 51 wells near Buck Steam Station participated in testing mandated by the 2014 Coal Ash Management Act. Culbert said the company would agree to provide water on a temporary basis to any families advised their well water is unsafe by the state.

It would take about three weeks from the time letters are received by residents to a water delivery, Culbert said.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.