Current Issues

Coal Ash Pollution

Coal Ash Spill Update:

3rd Largest Coal Ash Spill in U.S. History - to help support Yadkin Riverkeeper in this effort.

On Sunday, February 2, 2014, a Duke Energy coal ash pond located on the Dan River near Eden, N.C., began discharging into the Dan River. The spill began when a storm water pipe broke spewing thousands of tons of coal ash along with millions of gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River.

Websites keeping up with Coal Ash Spill:

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

N.C. Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR)

Duke Energy - Dan River Response

Coal Ash Chronicles

Southeast Coal Ash Waste 


Duke Energy Comments on Buck Steam Plant

Let your legislator know that you want safe storage of coal ash.


March 6, 2014 - News Release from Waterkeeper Alliance

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—A Wake County Judge today ruled that Duke Energy must take immediate action to eliminate the sources of groundwater contamination that are currently violating water quality standards at all 14 of its coal-fired power plants in North Carolina. READ FULL PRESS RELEASE HERE.


Coal Ash Spill Fact Sheet


Article in News and Observer - NC officials examine notification delay- Overview and Timeline


Montioring Dan River

Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks and folks from Waterkeeper Alliance and Dan River Basin Association continue monitoring the Dan River on Sun., Feb. 16.





Criminal Investigation Opens on Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill
Waterkeeper testing reveals coal ash pond still discharging into Dan River

Winston-Salem, NC, February 14, 2014 – Yadkin Riverkeeper learned yesterday that the U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation on the Duke Energy coal ash spill into the Dan River that occurred on Feb. 2.  

At the same time, Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper independently released results from a second round of water sampling on the Dan River in the wake of the third largest coal ash spill in recent U.S. history, confirming that highly-contaminated coal ash seepage is still discharging out of the same Duke Energy ash impoundment where an estimated tens of thousands of tons of raw ash erupted into the river last week. SEE FULL LIST SERVE EMAIL HERE.

2/13/2014 Breaking News from Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper

Ash pond still dumping while Duke begins ash removal from river

Eden, NC – Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper have obtained the results from a second round of water sampling on the Dan River in the wake of the third largest coal ash spill in recent U.S. history. Their results confirm that highly-contaminated coal ash seepage is still pouring out of the same Duke Energy ash impoundment where an estimated tens of thousands of tons of raw ash erupted into the river last week. The newly-confirmed leak is located about a third of a mile upstream of the pipe where last week’s major spill occurred. READ FULL PRESS RELEASE HERE.


2/10/2014 Unedited interview conducted by Rhiannon Fionn, Coal Ash Chronicles with Susan Massengale, NCDENR Spokesperson.


Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks and staff member Justin Quinlivan meet with Stokes County students on Dan River

Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks along with Yadkin Riverkeeper staff Justin Quinlivan, will meet with a group of Stokes County high school students today (Mon.) at 12:15 PM, at Draper Landing river access site, located off the highway 700 bridge in Eden, NC. 
Naujoks will share background on the Duke Energy coal ash ponds located throughout NC and how they impact the vital waterways of our state plus what Yadkin Riverkeeper and other Riverkeeper organizations throughout the state are doing to force Duke Energy to clean up this toxic legacy of contamination. Quinlivan will share his first-hand experience during the aftermath of the days-long spill and how scientists and waterkeepers have worked to measure the impact and conduct sampling in the affected areas. 
The Stokes County high school students, led by educator Patrick Minges, a teacher at at Stokes Early College High School, are exploring the site of the Coal Ash spill and to take water samples and pictures to create a web site. Several classes of students will participate in the sampling and discussion, including civics, earth science, math and world history. 
The trip originated out of discussions during a civics class, but other classes will be coming to learn.


Waterkeeper and Yadkin Riverkeeper team on the ground at Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill.

ONE FULL WEEK AFTER THE SPILL: Today DENR admitted they made a huge mistake interpreting their own sample results. They now say arsenic levels were unsafe after the spill.

DENR is only NOW, 
"recommending that the public avoid prolonged direct contact with the Dan River in the area of the spill until further notice."


NC now says Dan River arsenic levels were unsafe after Duke Energy ash spill

What is believed to be the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history occurred on Sunday, February 2, 2014 in the Dan River near Eden, NC. Yadkin Riverkeeper staff member Justin Quinlivan joined Waterkeeper Alliance Global Coal Campaign Coordinator Donna Lisenby as part of the Ready Response Team onsite. The team conducted aerial and on the ground monitoring of this giant spill.

Press Release from February 6, 2014 - Water Test Results

Update - news from Ecowatch.


Aerial view of Dan River from 2/4/14

Coal Ash Spill

Update: 2/6/14 - Justin Quinlivan, staff from Yadkin Riverkeeper shows difference in Dan River soil. Gray sediment on the left is from coal ash spill.

Slideshow of images from Dan River

 UPDATE (2/6/2014 5:05 PM):  Today Waterkeeper Alliance and Yadkin Riverkeeper issued the results of water sampling from the Dan River in the wake of the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history. A certified laboratory analysis of Waterkeeper’s samples, completed today, reveals that the water immediately downstream of Duke Energy’s ash spill is contaminated with extremely high levels of arsenic, chromium, iron, lead and other toxic metals typically found in coal ash.

UPDATE (2/3/2014 11:03 PM): Duke Energy estimates the spill dumped 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash and other chemicals, in addition to 27 million gallons of water laden with metals/chemicals.  The spill occurred when a stormwater pipe underneath Duke Energy's Dan River coal ash ponds broke.

On January 15, 2014, Yadkin Riverkeeper joined with other NC Riverkeepers demanding cleanup of Duke Energy's coal ash pollution. See full press release here.

Yadkin Riverkeeper, in partnership with Catawba College Center for the Environment, hosted a public forum on Jan. 27, 2014 that provided critical information on the impact of excess nutrients, plus harmful impacts of coal ash from the Buck Steam Plant on High Rock Lake.

Dr. JoAnn Burkholder, Professor of Applied Aquatic Ecology, NC State University, addressed the environmental effects of nutrient pollution and the science behind nutrient management to improve water quality in High Rock Lake. Donna Lisenby, Global Coal Campaign Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance, addressed the impact of coal ash on High Rock Lake and surrounding areas. Dean Naujoks, Yadkin Riverkeeper, provided an update on Thomasville sewage spills and present PCB analysis conducted by Dr. Peter de Fur, Virginia Tech University.
More than 75 people attended.


States can do a better job at protecting aquatic life around power plants.

Power plant cooling systems, specifically the outdated “once-through cooling” variety, withdraw 200 billion gallons of water per day, needlessly destroying 2 billion fish and 528 billion eggs and larvae each year nationwide. River Network recently joined GRACE Communications Foundation in releasing a new report that examines whether state agencies are prepared to ramp up their protections for the aquatic life destroyed by power plants. The report is intended to help state officials by identifying best practices from around the country, and also to give concerned citizens and environmental organizations the facts they need to advocate for protection of America’s lakes, rivers, oceans and estuaries.

You can download the report, called “Treading Water: How States Can Minimize the Impact of Power Plants on Aquatic Life,” at

State Files Lawsuit Against Duke Energy for Illegal Discharges from Coal Ash Waste Ponds

The State of North Carolina is suing Duke Energy to get them to clean up their leaching coal ash ponds.  The lawsuit started with coal ash ponds along the Catawba River, but is growing to include other ponds in North Carolina.  This may soon include the Buck Steam Plant along the Yadkin River.  The Buck Steam plant is located in in Rowan County, while the coal plant has been shut down, the coal ash ponds are still there.  The coal ash ponds at Buck are located near the water and have leeched harmful chemicals into the Yadkin River in the past.  Learn more about how coal is poisoning our water.

The Dirty Lie Continues

Mercury is a heavy metal that accumulates in the fish we eat and can negatively impact brain function- and coal-fired power plants are the main source.
Over 500,000 people spoke up for the Utility mercury rule, a strong standard on hazardous air pollution that would reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 91%. 

The science is in and the American people have spoken, but some members of Congress are only listening to big polluters like the coal industry. It’s no secret why -- in 2010 alone, Big Coal spent $200 million lobbying Congress to ensure their profits were protected instead of the health of our lakes, wildlife and children.

Pure Farms, Pure Water

Feb. 27 The Pure Farms, Pure Waters team and Waterkeepers across North Carolina are addressing the looming threat of PED, also known as Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea, which is killing piglets and spreading fast to other farms across the United States.



RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA –Waterkeeper Alliance and North Carolina Riverkeepers today called on the North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler, to take immediate action necessary to protect human health and the environment in response the swine industry’s handling of dead hogs resulting from the porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus outbreak in North Carolina. The groups ask Commissioner Troxler to immediately inform the public about the scope of the problem and human health risks associated improper handling and disposal of infected hog carcasses, and to take responsibility for ensuring that the massive hog mortality will be safely managed by the swine industry and supervised by the State.

The groups are also calling on Commissioner Troxler to request that Governor Pat McCrory declare a State of Emergency to deal with the PED mortality problem as contemplated in 2011 Animal Burial Guidelines developed by the State Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. A State of Emergency would allow state and local authorities, including county health directors, to inspect industrialized swine facilities where the PED virus has left millions of dead and dying hogs, and implement emergency plans and requirements for safely handling swine mortality. Burying dead pigs in mass graves is common practice in mass casualty events, and Waterkeepers are concerned that in areas of the coastal plain, where most infected swine facilities are located, there is a high risk for contamination of shallow groundwater and nearby waterways, allowing for the transmission of bacteria and pathogens to drinking water supplies and recreational waters.

“While we understand that PED cannot be directly transmitted to humans, the massive numbers of pigs that have died from this virus pose a significant concern to the public health if not disposed of properly,” said Mr. Gray Jernigan, North Carolina-based staff attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “There is currently little to no government oversight of carcass disposal in the midst of this epidemic, and we are calling on the State to take action as authorized by law to protect the citizens of North Carolina.”

“I have seen first hand the unsafe disposal methods commonly employed on hog facilities. Hogs are commonly buried in low-lying areas adjacent to wetlands. They often sit out for days waiting to be transported for off-site disposal while blood and other fluids seep into the ground,” added Mr. Larry Baldwin, New Bern-based CAFO Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance.

The request to Commissioner Troxler was made in a letter released today that includes a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for additional information on the full scope of the PED outbreak, including numbers and locations of affected farms, total numbers of dead animals, the number and location of disposal sites, and a full and public accounting of the state’s response to the PED outbreak. Also included is a resolution passed in 2007 by the Association of Local County Health Directors expressing their concerns for the public health, and requesting appropriate reform of dangerous swine production practices. The swine industry sought to have this Resolution rescinded. That attempt was rejected by the Association.

Additionally, the organizations today released a new video that shows the impact of the PED virus on North Carolina farms, and illustrates the way diseased animals are being disposed of, which could threaten human health and the environment. Please click here to view this important video:

A 2013 study, “Investigating the Role of State and Local Health Departments in Addressing Public Health Concerns Related to Industrial Food Animal Production Sites,” by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, examined the role of local and state health departments in responding to and preventing community-driven concerns associated with animal production sites. This study developed when it was brought to the attention of two of the authors that community members may incorrectly assume that local health departments actively monitor and address potential concerns arising from large animal production sites.

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GOAL: Eliminate the impacts of factory farms on our waterways and our communities.

CAFOs stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, commonly known as factory farms. These operations cram thousands of animals into warehouse style buildings, creating one of the greatest sources of water pollution in the country, endangering public health and putting family farmers out of business.


Keep NC Frack Free

Yadkin Riverkeeper is a partner with the Frack Free NC alliance. “Frack-Free NC” is a network of grassroots organizations who believe that shale gas development using “fracking” and horizontal drilling cannot be done without bringing harm to our waters, land, air, communities and public health. We are working to keep North Carolina frack free.

Alcoa Re-Licensing

Yadkin Riverkeeper Supports State of NC’s Legal Action to Establish State Ownership of the Yadkin River Bed and Seeks to Intervene to Protect the Public Trust

September 5th, 2013

Winston-Salem, NC.  September 2, 2013 – Today the Yadkin Riverkeeper has taken the next step in supporting the State of North Carolina’s legal challenge to establish State ownership of the bed of the Yadkin River. The Riverkeeper has filed a “Motion to Intervene” in the State’s pending action against Alcoa that challenges the company’s longstanding contention that it owns the riverbed.  Yadkin Riverkeeper has worked for years to force cleanup of pollution in the Yadkin Project and at the Badin Plant.

State sues over ownership of Yadkin River

North Carolina officials are hitting Alcoa with two moves in a fight over who will control the water and electric power that comes from the state’s second-largest river system for the next 50 years.

The North Carolina Division of Water Resources this afternoon denied a 401 water quality certification for the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project submitted by Alcoa.

Alcoa's application certified that it owned the property, but a civil action filed by the N.C. Department of Administration Friday asserts that the state of North Carolina owns, and holds in trust for the people of North Carolina, the submerged bed of the Yadkin River and portions of the project’s dams standing on the state’s riverbed land.

“The division cannot consider the application to be a valid application until the issues of ownership of the submerged bed of the Yadkin River and the project’s dams are resolved by the parties or by a final order of the court in the pending lawsuit,” Tom Reeder, director of the Division of Water Resources, wrote in a letter to Alcoa.

Take Action Now to Stop Alcoa's 50 Year Takeover

Yadkin Riverkeeper and the citizens of North Carolina need your help. An important decision is currently being considered by the NC Division of Water Quality that carries monumental implications to our state and we need your voice to be heard. Your kind yet candid efforts could potentially influence the outcome of this decision that will impact the Yadkin River and surrounding community for the next 50 years.

Please print, read, sign and mail this letter to NC Division of Water Quality today to show your support!   

Most importantly, we need involved communities and citizens like you to stand up and defend this important public resource—The Yadkin River! Thank you for all your help and support over the past five years. We could not have done it without you!  Please mail this letter today. Public comments are due by June 13th. 

Don’t want to use a form letter? Click here to sign our online petition, but please act quickly. We won’t get this opportunity again for another 50 years!

“The public must retain the control of the great waterways. It is essential that any permit to obstruct them for reasons and on conditions that seem good at the moment should be subject to revision when changed conditions demand.”- President Theodore Roosevelt

The Value of a River

Renowned Economist, Michael Shuman, says state ownership of the four hydroelectric dams on the Yadkin could result in more than $1.2 billion in additional state revenues, and the creation and addition of 14,000-75,000 jobs.

Yadkin Riverkeeper, local county commissioners, citizen interest groups and North Carolina law makers enter the fifth year of legal challenges and fierce opposition to prevent Aluminum giant Alcoa from receiving a 50 year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to control four hydro-power dams located on the Yadkin River. According to proponents of local control of the river, Alcoa is a multinational corporation that presently monopolizes and exploits the Yadkin River’s hydroelectric capacity for its bottom line, with little in return to the people of North Carolina.

Because the cost of generating hydropower is relatively low and the price of electricity is high, Alcoa enjoys an after-tax profit of at least $7 million to $8 million per year. Alcoa has applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency responsible for the licensing of public to continue reaping those funds.

“If the public is supposed to be the true beneficiary of this resource, it is important for the public to understand the value of this important natural resource that belongs to the citizens of NC, said Yadkin Riverkeeper, Dean Naujoks.  “But how do you measure the economic value of a river?”

While there is no simple formula, nationally-known economist Dr. Michael Shuman has come up with some intriguing projections for North Carolina’s second largest river system, the Yadkin.

Commissioned by Central Park N.C., a regional sustainable development organization, Shuman has conducted a five-month study to compare the economic outcome if North Carolina can “recapture” the federal license to operate four hydroelectric dams on the river, rather than Alcoa Power Generating Inc., getting the license for another 50 years.

Shuman’s report concludes that if the state received the standard 50-year federal license to operate hydroelectric facilities on the river, and implemented proper oversight of them, the setup can result in more than $1.2 billion in additional state revenues, and the creation and addition of 14,000-75,000 jobs. Click here to read more

US Supreme Court Ruling in PPL Montana, LLC v. Montana

How this ruling may affect Alcoa Re-licensing of Yadkin River Dams

February 27, 2012

Press Advisory

By Dean Naujoks

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court sent a case back to the State of Montana for their courts to decide which sections of river beds in that state were owned by the state. Montana is directed to determine ownership by looking at “navigability,” which sections of these rivers were passable by boats.  Justice Kennedy decided to go beyond what was needed to decide the case and added some passing remarks at the end.  After deciding the issues, the Court said that Montana’s failure to charge rent for use of the river beds should be evidence that the rivers themselves were not passable by boats. 

Monroe Litigation: Latest Update

January, 2014 News on Monroe Bypass


Retired UNCC professor questions Monroe bypass report
-article in Charlotte Observer Jan. 11, 2014

Analyst: Bypass study is flawed
 - article in The Enquirer Journal Jan. 11, 2014

On January 7, 2014 the Southern Environmental Law Center issued a press release detailing a report by transportation planner David T. Hartgen, Ph.D, P.E., which states that NCDOT's analysis is insufficient to support building $900 million Monroe Bypass.
Dr. Hartgen, who has 45 years of transportation planning experience, explains that NCDOT’s latest planning document “simply ignores the last 12 years of history,” relying on outdated assumptions and flawed methodologies including pre-recession data and methodologies that fail to acknowledge recent improvements to U.S. 74.

See full press release here.

On July 23, 2013 the Southern Environmental Law Center released a study by O’Connell & Lawrence, Inc. an engineering  firm.  The study raised concerns and uncovered significant holes in the Department of Transportation’s studies. For example, the department failed to examine who exactly is using the US 74 corridor, making it impossible to tell who would use the proposed bypass in the future.   To address NCDOT’s failure, the new report examines a suite of low cost, low impact solutions that would improve traffic flow on US 74 for local drivers.

On April 26, 2013 the US Army Corps of Engineers revoked NCDOT's permit for the Monroe Bypass.  The permit is required under section 404 of the Clean Water Act and the Bypass cannot be constructed without it.  The Yadkin Riverkeeper along with Clean Air Carolina and the NC Wildlife Federation have been urging the Corps to revoke the permit since the ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit last May which invalidated the environmental study performed by NCDOT.

On February 5, 2013 the groups issued a Notice of Intent to sue under the Clean Water Act to the Corps.   In response to that letter, the Corp finally agreed to revoke the permit, almost a year after the Fourth Circuit's ruling.  Other agencies including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have also withdrawn their approvals for the project.  NCDOT will need to re-apply for all these approvals, and complete its environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act before taking any further steps

In the meantime the Yadkin Riverkeeper will continue to work with local community groups in Union County to urge NCDOT to consider alternative solutions to the Bypass such as upgrades to US 74, 218 and Old Monroe road.


The Project

  • The Monroe Bypass would be a $740 million, 20-mile highway through the large exurban-rural area of North Carolina, east of Charlotte.  The project would have nine interchanges, and has been heavily promoted by real estate speculators.
  • The Bypass would destroy at least 499 acres of active agricultural lands. 95 homes, including a number of Century Farms, and 47 businesses will have to be relocated, with 7 neighborhoods being disturbed.  Three churches are also directly impacted. 
  • Only about 40 percent of the cost of the project would be paid by tolls. The rest would come from taxpayers in the form of an appropriation from the State of $24 million every year for the next 30 years.
  • There are lower cost alternatives to solving traffic in the region that would spare the many homes and family farms in the way of the bypass project.  An NCDOT study found that the vast majority of the congestion in the U.S. 74 corridor could be addressed for $15 million, a fraction of the cost of the Monroe Bypass.

Purpose and Need of the Bypass

  • The stated purpose of the Bypass is NOT to improve congestion on existing US 74.
  • Rather, the stated purpose is to improve high speed travel between I-485 and the Town of Marshville.
  • NCDOT predicts that construction of the Bypass will NOT greatly alleviate congestion on US 74.
  • Recent statements indicate that the Turnpike Authority would not be in favor of improvements to US 74 that would have a “competing interest with the Bypass.” 
  • Constructing the Bypass will remove the “Strategic Highway Corridor” designation from US 74- meaning that US 74 will no longer be a priority for state improvements.
  • The Turnpike Authority has never looked at how much traffic in the US 74 is local traffic, versus through traffic.  Thus the Authority does not have a good sense of who will actually use the Bypass.
  • The Authority has indicated that truck drivers are mixed about whether they will use it or not and significant truck traffic will stay on US 74.
  • Statewide planning documents indicate that a key purpose of the Monroe Bypass is a proposed 5,000 acre business park called Legacy Park that is planned to be constructed near Marshville. 

The Court’s Decision

  • The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that the North Carolina Turnpike Authority misled the public and other agencies in their environmental analysis of the proposed toll highway.
  • State and federal permitting agencies and environmental groups repeatedly questioned the Turnpike Authority about fundamental flaws in the analysis throughout the administrative process.
  • The agencies continually denied the flaws, which they knew to be present in their analysis, and even published a denial in the official federal Record of Decision.
  • The appeals court recognized that the “critically important” flaw of including the project in the base case “no build” scenario masked the environmental and human impacts of the project and thus prevented a fair comparison of less expensive, community-friendly alternatives.

SELC filed suit in November, 2010 to put the brakes on the bypass - one of the biggest highway expansion proposals North Carolina history- and May 2012 the Appeals Court ruled that federal and state agencies illegally approved the controversial project.

Clean Water Under Attack

Vigilance Alert:

Legislation working its way through congress would severly impair the EPA's authority to impose restrictions on polluters nationwide. This legislation would give the states veto power on a number of water quality concerns that the Clean Water Act currently authorizes the EPA to make - essentially circumventing the EPA's ability to stop states from dismantling water quality requirements simply to lure polluters for economic reasons. These short-sighted gains can only result in severe longterm destruction of our country's natural resources.

Alcoa Pollution

See the map below to view the locations of Alcoa's 46 Solid Waste Management Units (SWMUs). These areas contain concentrated levels of toxins produced by the aluminum smelting process, including arsenic, cyanide, PCBs and flouride.