Groundwater Monitoring Results Highlight TVA’s Commitment to Safe, Secure Storage and Management of CCR

TVA is sharing results of the latest groundwater monitoring samples taken at its coal combustion residuals sites to identify areas for additional study and possible corrective action.

March 4, 2020 – TVA’s 2019 annual groundwater monitoring and corrective action reports are posted for applicable sites where we store coal combustion residuals, or CCR, commonly known as coal ash. As part of our commitment to safe, secure storage and management of coal ash, TVA maintains a robust groundwater monitoring system to ensure the protection of the environment and public health.

The 2019 reports demonstrate a positive trend in groundwater quality around our CCR units since 2017 and 2018 results. Nearly 80 percent of all downgradient monitoring wells across seven different fossil plant sites are meeting the groundwater protection standards. The rest of the remaining monitoring wells are not registering any further elevated levels of some constituents, and in some cases, the levels have declined.  

“These annual groundwater reports are snapshots of data from very specific locations, but they help us see a broader picture of what may be happening at our CCR sites,” explained Scott Turnbow, TVA Vice President for Civil Projects.

The 2019 annual reports cover the following sites: Allen, Bull Run, Colbert, Cumberland, Gallatin, Johnsonville, Kingston, Paradise, and Shawnee. Each of these sites has a series of downgradient monitoring wells strategically located around the edge of areas where CCR is managed. The required number of wells, spacing, and depth of wells is determined by the specific characteristics of each site.

The results reflect localized groundwater beneath the CCR units and do not necessarily indicate any impact beyond TVA property. Local utilities are required to test public drinking water supplies to ensure that they are safe for consumption. And, monitoring data consistently shows that the quality of surface water, such as rivers, is not being adversely impacted by TVA’s coal plant operations, including coal ash storage and management practices.

“We have a long history of monitoring water quality conditions in TVA reservoirs, as well as the streams and rivers that flow into them,” Turnbow said. “We place great value in understanding the health of our aquatic resources and maintaining updated information on current and trending reservoir conditions.”

Although TVA has monitored groundwater quality for decades, the 2015 federal CCR rule sets forth a specific process for monitoring, investigating, and addressing any groundwater issues. The process requires groundwater monitoring through multiple phases: baseline sampling, detection monitoring, and assessment monitoring.

Under the guidance in the CCR Rule, TVA will continue monitoring CCR storage areas. In units where localized groundwater is not meeting the site-specific groundwater protection standards, TVA must assess possible corrective measures. Afterwards, TVA must hold a public hearing to discuss our assessment prior to selecting a final remedy, and report semiannually on the progress made toward selecting and designing any remedy.  “This is the process we are following under the federal CCR rule to make sure we are selecting the best remedies to address any issues,” Turnbow said.

That may include taking some short-term actions to address specific issues at some sites.

Additionally, TVA is also conducting comprehensive studies on the potential impacts of CCR storage at seven locations in Tennessee, including those sites where coal plants have been retired and/or removed. These investigations will provide additional data on everything from groundwater to surface water, fish and soil in areas around all of TVA’s CCR storage sites in Tennessee. The results from these studies will help inform site-specific decisions on the future of CCR storage, including closure methods and any additional corrective actions necessary at each site.

TVA is committed to being an industry leader in the safe, secure monitoring and management of coal ash. The Tennessee Valley is our home: we work here, we raise our families here, and enjoy the rich recreational heritage of our land and waterways, which is why we work day and night to ensure the safety of our facilities. 

To read the 2019 annual groundwater monitoring and corrective action reports, please go to our website at www.tva.gov/ccr.

Note: The 2019 data also includes ongoing sampling for units not included in the original CCR Rule. Those units – two each at Bull Run and Kingston and one at John Sevier – will follow the same process as units in the original CCR Rule, but on a different schedule. Results of initial sampling at these sites were posted in September 2019 on TVA’s CCR Rule website. Updated reports for these sites will be posted again in August 2020.