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In The News

EPA coal ash standards a setback for environmental groups
12-20-14 | Raleigh News & Observer | By Dylan Lovan, Travis Loller and Dina Cappiello, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Six years ago, there was a massive spill of coal ash sludge in Tennessee. Three years later, tons of coal ash swept into Lake Michigan. Last February, there was another spill and gray sludge spewed into the Dan River in North Carolina.

With each disaster, environmentalists sounded alarms and called for the byproduct of burning coal to be treated as hazardous waste. On Friday, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the first standards for the coal-burning waste, but they were hardly what environmental groups were hoping for.

The EPA ruled that the ash can be treated like regular garbage, meaning regulating the stuff will be left up to states and watchful citizens.

"We had to go to court to force EPA to issue this first-ever coal ash rule, and unfortunately, we will be back in court to force coal plants to clean up their ash dumps and start disposing of their toxic waste safely," said EarthJustice attorney Lisa Evans.

Added Scott Slesinger of the Natural Resources Defense Council: "Unlike the majority of environmental standards — which are backstopped by federal enforcement — this rule all but leaves people who live near coal ash dumps to fend for themselves." read more

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EPA won't regulate coal ash as hazardous waste
12-19-14 | Raleigh News & Observer | By Bruce Henderson
The first federal rules on coal ash from power plants, released Friday, set the bar generally lower than North Carolina did in responding to Duke Energy's February spill into the Dan River.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it will regulate coal ash as solid waste, such as municipal garbage, instead of as a hazardous waste. Ash contains elements that can be toxic in water.
That decision leaves it to utilities to comply with the new federal rule, without federal enforcement. States can adopt similar standards if they choose, but enforcement is otherwise left to citizens by filing lawsuits.

"It's good that EPA is setting the first national standards for groundwater monitoring and cleanups," said Eric Schaeffer, a former EPA enforcement chief now at the Environmental Integrity Project. "But we're concerned that it relies too much on industry self-policing."

Industry groups praised the federal decision, saying the designation as non-hazardous would continue to make ash available for reuse in products such as concrete. Environmental advocates said EPA missed a chance to rein in a waste that's known to contaminate water.

The federal rule requires groundwater monitoring and says contaminating ash ponds have to be closed. It sets design, siting and inspection standards for ash ponds or landfills, including protective liners for new ones.

North Carolina's law, which took effect in September, bans new ash ponds and closes existing ones over 15 years. It expands groundwater monitoring, already underway, that has found contamination at each of Duke's 14 North Carolina power plants.

Unlike the EPA rule, the state doesn't allow inactive ash ponds to be capped without further study of their environmental impacts.

Industry practices and some state standards already eclipse the EPA in some ways, said Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which has filed citizen lawsuits against Duke.

"This is not the industry standard, but the industry minimum," Holleman said of the federal rule.
read more

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City, county fight dam classification
8-6-14 | The Fayetteville Citizen | By John Thompson
Peachtree City and Fayette County are calling out the EPD in hopes that an administrative hearing can speed up the refilling of Lake Peachtree.

The guns-blazing assault against the state agency appeared in a July 17 petition filed with the state's office of administrative hearings.

In June, EPD director Judson Turner reclassified the dam as a Category 1 dam, under the umbrella of the Georgia Safe Dams Act. The new classification could slow the process and increase the cost of fixing the dam and bringing the lake back to its pristine condition.

The petition for hearing claims Turner made his determination from a review of the 100-year flood plain that showed a house on Fenn Way could be flooded if the dam is breached.
read more

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Southwest Georgia dam failures drill planned
7-30-14 | WALB-TV Albany, GA | By Jim Wallace
DOUGHERTY CO., GA (WALB) - Lessons learned from the Flood of 1994 have not been forgotten. 

An emergency exercise simulating dam failures in Cordele and Albany will be conducted soon.
Emergency management agencies and first responders from across Southwest Georgia will join Georgia Power and the Crisp County Power Commission for the emergency drill. Because we all know it could really happen.

In September Georgia Power will conduct an emergency action plan drill with emergency management and first responder agencies.  They will simulate a dam failure at both the Crisp County Power Commission's Lake Blackshear Dam and Georgia Power's Flint River dam.  Much like what happened during the 1994 flood.

Georgia Power EAP Engineer Billy Brundage said "In 1994 in the peak of the flood there was a very small difference in the elevation of the water upstream and downstream of the dam.  Like I said, we were sort of a speed bump in the river."

The agencies will work on clarifying their roles and responsibilities, and how to work efficiently together.

Dougherty County EMA Deputy Director Jim Vaught said "It's always better to be prepared.  Know who you are going to deal with ahead of time, rather than trying to make friends and who does what during the actual event."

During the Flood of 1994 thousands of homes and buildings were flooded, and dozens were killed, thousands left homeless.  The idea of this drill is to prevent as much loss of life and damage as possible.. read more and see video

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USDA Farm Bill Investment Funds 150 Dam Rehab Projects
7-21-14 | Farm Futures
USDA will spend $262 million on rehabilitating dams per the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA announced on July 18.

The funding, which will provide rehabilitation assistance for 150 dams in 26 states, can be used for planning, design or construction. The outlay is detailed in the 2014 Farm Bill, which increased the typical annual investment in watershed rehabilitation by almost 21-fold to recognize infrastructure's role in flood management, water supply, and agricultural productivity.

Photo of dam

Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller and Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, recognized the announcement in Oklahoma, where the first full watershed plan and structure was completed by USDA on private lands in the 1940s.

USDA invests $262 million for dam rehabilitation per farm bill outlays.

From the 1940s through the 1970s, local communities using NRCS assistance constructed more than 11,800 dams in 47 states. These watershed management projects provide an estimated $2.2 billion in annual benefits in reduced flooding and erosion damages, and improved recreation, water supplies and wildlife habitat for an estimated 47 million Americans.

In addition to the 150 dam projects that will be funded, 500 dam sites will be assessed for safety through NRCS' Watershed Rehabilitation Program.

The projects were identified based on recent rehabilitation investments and the potential risks to life and property if a dam failure occurred. Overall, an estimated 250,000 people will benefit as a result of improved flood protection made possible by these rehabilitated dams.

For a complete list of the projects, please visit the FY 2014 Watershed Rehabilitation Projects Funding Table page. read more

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Fayette, PTC agree on appealing dam decision
7-6-14 | The (Fayetteville, Georgia) Citizen | By Cal Beverly
Peachtree City, Georgia, July 3, 2014 — Elected officials from the Fayette County Board of Commissioners met Wednesday at City Hall in Peachtree City with elected officials from the City Council of Peachtree City to discuss the plans and timetables for returning Lake Peachtree to a state of good repair.

Both the city and county governments agree that the Georgia Environmental Protection's classification of Lake Peachtree as a "Category I" structure should be appealed. Discussions are underway on how to proceed.

The county government is prepared to begin the dry dredging process at the lake, but both the city and county acknowledge the process, following state and federal regulations, will take time to complete. The county has requested permission to proceed with the dredging, using a dry dredging process, awaiting approval from the US Army Corps of Engineers. read more

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PTC to Fayette: 'Hurry up' with lake repairs
6-11-14 | The (Fayetteville, Georgia) Citizen | By John Munford
The Peachtree City Council has formally requested to be kept in the loop on developments surrounding the dam and faulty spillway at Lake Peachtree, which have necessitated the lake level remaining low, leaving much of the surface dry and presenting a less-than-picturesque view of the city's central amenity.

In a letter to the Fayette County Commission, Peachtree City Mayor Vanessa Fleisch has asked for the county's engineering studies to be conducted "in a concurrent and expeditious manner so as to expedite a refilling of the lake to its normal pool level."

The county has provided a timeline to the city that culminates the last week in July with completion of an emergency action plan for the project. However, the timeline for the start of repairs could be extended by weeks or months depending on whether there are any regulatory permits needed from the state or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for example.

The city and county are inextricably linked on the project because the city owns the lake property while the county uses it as a reservoir and is required under a contract to maintain the dam and spillway structures.

The spillway problems, as shown on a high-definition video to council Thursday night, are from a cavern-like void underneath the spillway's concrete exterior. The cavern was likely caused by erosion, but the net effect on the spillway is that it is structurally unsound, and if the county were to refill the lake ... the spillway could collapse.

A big question the county needs answered now — before it proceeds too much further with engineering — is whether state regulators classify the dam and spillway as one that could cause the potential loss of life downstream if they were to be breached and thus cause a flood.
Such a designation is called "Category 1" and would surely mean a costlier fix for the spillway if not an outright replacement, depending on the possible solutions devised by the county's consulting engineering firm, CH2M Hill and a firm called Golder, which specializes in dam and spillway projects. read more

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Dry summer ahead for Lake Peachtree
6-8-14 | The (Fayetteville, Georgia) Citizen | By John Munford
The Peachtree City Council learned Thursday that the structural problems with the Lake Peachtree spillway extend further than the human eye can see.

That's why engineers lowered a special high-definition camera under the surface to "get to the bottom" of the problem.

Down below is a cavern-like environment that has been created by erosion, endangering the spillway to the point where the lake has to remain low until the structure can be repaired or replaced.
Unfortunately, the lake is likely to remain that way through at least the summer if not considerably longer.

There is no concrete start date for the repairs at this point, as county officials can't proceed with a design until they get a blessing from the state. The Georgia Safe Dams program is evaluating the potential hazard to downstream properties if the dam or spillway were to fail. read more

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Public Hearing Wednesday on Lake Alice Dam Remediation Plan
2-4-14 | Cumming Patch | By Hunt Archbold
A public hearing will be held on Wednesday night concerning the remediation plan to address the impact of last May's breach of the Lake Alice Dam.

The hearing will begin at 6 p.m. at Cumming City Hall, located at 100 Main Street.

The remediation plan, proposed by the City of Cumming and the Marcus Mashburn, Jr. and Alice S. Mashburn Family Trusts, was submitted to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources last month.

The Lake Alice Dam—between Market Place to the west, Sanders Road to the east, Buford Dam Road to the south and Mary Alice Park Road to the north—gave way to the water the morning of May 19, and Lake Alice flooded into Lake Lanier. read more

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'Dirty Dozen' water list includes dam issue
Cumming's dam issue highlights state's lack of regulation

11-18-13 | Northfulton.com | By Aldo Nahed
CUMMING, Ga. — In May, a dam located below Lake Alice burst, unleashing a torrent of polluted water downstream.

In addition to the dam breach that washed out a portion of Sanders Road, tons of sediment were dumped into Lake Lanier and negatively affected about 50 homes.

The dam's failure near Lake Alice was named last week in the "Dirty Dozen" for 2013, an annual report by the Georgia Water Coalition, a group of more than 200 state organizations, which puts the spotlight on 12 of the "worst offenses to Georgia's waters."

"The Dirty Dozen is not a list of the most polluted water bodies in Georgia, nor are they ranked in any particular order," said Joe Cook, riverkeeper and executive director at the Coosa River Basin Initiative.

"It's a list of problems that exemplify the results of inadequate funding for environmental protections, lack of political will to enforce environmental laws and ultimately misguided water planning and spending priorities that flow from the very top of Georgia's leadership," he said.

In the report, the Lake Alice dam highlights the state's aging dams, which are in danger of failing and often go without inspection. read more

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EPD Gives City of Cumming, Family 60 Days To Fix Dam Breach
9-19-13 | Cumming Patch | By Brande Poulnot
More than three months after a dam breached in Cumming, the state of Georgia has stepped in to require a resolution for a Lake Lanier cove now clouded with sediment. 

The Lake Alice Dam—between Market Place to the west, Sanders Road to the east, Buford Dam Road to the south and Mary Alice Park Road to the north—broke the morning of May 19, and Lake Alice flooded into Lake Lanier, according to the Lake Alice Dam Breach Facebook page.

In June, Forsyth County was still making repairs to a portion of Sanders Road, which washed out as a result of the breach. After storms dumped more than 4 inches of rain, not only water, but also mud seeped through the dam, following the path of a creek and flowing into the cove on Lake Lanier, where about 50 homeowners reported the water turned orange, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

More than a month after the breach, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Environmental Protection Division facilitated the signing of a consent order by the city of Cumming, which owns a 50-foot portion of Sanders Road damaged in the flood, and the Mashburn family, which owns the Lake Alice Dam, NorthFulton.com reported. The parties agreed to work together to stabilize the area, stemming the tide of sediment flowing into Lake Lanier. 

But that hasn't happened, according to the EPD.

Tuesday it issued an administrative order, which requires Cumming and the family fix the problem in 60 days. If it doesn't happen, the state would ask a Forsyth County judge to order the parties to comply, and if they don't, the parties could be held in contempt, forsythnews.com reports. read more

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Neglected dams are holding back trouble
2-17-13 | Macon Telegraph | By S. Heather Duncan
During Georgia's recent droughts, its lakes have often seemed a peaceful oasis glistening in the sun. But torrential rains last week were a reminder that in most cases, only a pile of sodden dirt prevents a lake from becoming something much wilder: a very big wave.

Fortunately, a pile of dirt can be an effective dam, keeping folks downstream both dry and alive.
In Georgia, however, just a small percentage of dams are inspected. Rules governing dams are more limited than in other states, and existing rules sometimes go unenforced for as long as 30 years.

Hundreds of dams go unregulated as they await study -- sometimes for decades -- to determine if they might be able to kill people downstream…

Middle Georgia dams in poor condition
Below is a list of dams in Middle Georgia that the state says are in poor condition. Their deficiencies could create problems during "realistic loading conditions," such as when the reservoir is normally filled and rainfall levels aren't extreme. The state says these dams need to be fixed. There are no dams in Middle Georgia deemed "unsatisfactory," which means their problems are so bad that they must be fixed immediately.

Bibb:

  • VFW dam
  • Lakeside dam
  • Lake Wildwood dam
  • Wolf Creek dam

Crawford:

  • Lower 4-J Farms dam

Monroe:

  • Lawson Lake dam

Washington:

  • Ferncrest dam
  • Imrys 5C dam
  • Lower Yarborough dam
  • Walden Woods dam

read more

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13 area dams could be reclassified as high risk
12-12-10 | Augusta Chronicle | By Rob Pavey
The Number of dams designated "high risk" under Georgia's Safe Dams Act could more than double in Richmond and Columbia counties, but a backlog in state enforcement because of budget cuts could drag the reclassification process out years longer than scheduled.

Currently, there are six high-risk dams in Augusta and three in Columbia County, but at least 13 additional Category II dams have been identified for reclassification studies, said Tom Woosley, the manager of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division's Safe Dams Program. read more