Alabama Power Releases Coal Ash Inundation Map Highlighting Potential Dangers Faced in Mobile-Tensaw Delta
(Mobile, Ala.) – Alabama Power recently released Plant Barry’s coal ash pond Inundation Maps detailing areas, including parts of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, which would be covered with toxic coal ash if a dam failure were to occur. The maps are part of Alabama Power’s federally required Emergency Action Plan (EAP) prepared for Plant Barry in the event of a natural or manmade disaster.
Potential causes of a dam breach could include hurricanes, frequent flooding in the Delta after periods of heavy rain, and general limitations associated with earthen embankments such as the one at Plant Barry. “The worst-case scenario is a breach of the dam, and this map highlights a portion of the massive area that would be most immediately affected – their map does NOT include the downstream impacts we believe would also occur,” said Casi (kc) Callaway, Executive Director & Baykeeper of Mobile Baykeeper. “We’ve seen these incidents occur in other areas of the Southeast - like the Kingston, Tennessee coal ash catastrophe in 2008 and the Dan River spill in North Carolina in 2014. Imagine another BP Oil Disaster, but instead with millions of tons of coal ash spilling into the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.”
TVA Aerial imagery from before and after the 2011 Kingston coal ash catastrophe.
While the map shows the immediate area that would be most directly affected by a disaster, Pete Harrison, staff attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance, emphasizes it is only for emergency planning purposes and the actual area affected would be much larger than shown on the map.
“When Duke Energy’s dam failed in 2014, the Dan River was coated with 70 miles of coal ash downstream from the plant,” he said. “The ash contains toxic metals like arsenic, lead, and mercury – all of which would end up in Mobile Bay if the dam failed at Plant Barry. That’s what people need to realize.”
Callaway also emphasizes that an accident at Plant Barry would have far more than just environmental implications. “A potential disaster at Plant Barry would not only be devastating to our environment, but also to our economy and our way of life,” said Callaway. “We depend on clean water as a source of recreation for swimming, fishing, hunting, and boating, but we also depend on it for the health of many important industries like seafood, tourism, and real estate. The dangers highlighted in this map show exactly why Alabama Power needs to do the right thing and remove the coal ash to a lined landfill away from our rivers rather than leaving it to threaten the Delta and Bay for years to come.”
Alabama Power's Plant Barry Coal Ash Dam
Coal ash is the toxic waste that remains after coal is burned. It contains high concentrations of heavy metals, including mercury, arsenic, selenium, and chromium, which are hazardous to human health, wildlife, and waterways located in proximity to coal ash plants.
At Plant Barry, located 25 miles north of Mobile in Bucks, AL, more than 16 million tons of coal ash sits in a 600-acre pond directly adjacent to the Mobile River and Mobile-Tensaw Delta, one of the nation’s most biologically diverse ecosystems often known as “America’s Amazon.” The ash is collected and then transported to a massive coal ash pond, where it essentially dissolves into the water in the pond. This toxin-filled water sits behind an earthen dam where it can leak into groundwater or potentially cause a catastrophic incident and spill into the nearby Mobile River.
Additionally, Plant Barry sits less than a mile from the potential backup drinking water source for the more than 300,000 citizens who get their drinking water from the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System. The MAWSS pumping station lies within the inundated area, meaning that it would be covered by coal ash in the event of a failure of the dam at Plant Barry.
Last November, to comply with federal regulations, Alabama Power announced its preliminary coal ash closure plans to “cap in place” the coal ash at Plant Barry, leaving the ash to sit in an unlined pit and likely pollute the nearby groundwater for decades to come. This decision contrasts with the decisions made by many other utilities in the Southeast who instead chose to excavate the coal ash and move it to a lined landfill away from waterways.