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News Releases from Region 04

Watts Bar Reservoir Ecosystem Adjacent to TVA Kingston Facility Returns to Baseline Conditions

Contact Information: 
Jason McDonald (mcdonald.jason@epa.gov)
404-562-9203, 404-562-8400

ATLANTA –The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pleased to report that monitoring data from the areas of Watts Bar Reservoir impacted by the TVA Kingston Steam Plant coal ash release indicates the ecosystem has returned to “pre-spill” conditions.  Environmental data collected from 2009-2015 shows the fish community, benthic macroinvertebrates (bugs), sediment quality and tree swallow colonies have recovered to baseline conditions that existed prior to the release of 5.4 million cubic yards (CYs) of coal ash to the environment on December 22, 2008.

The cleanup was accomplished in three phases under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund.  The first phase of the cleanup involved the removal of 3.5 million cubic yards of ash from the Emory River to alleviate flooding concerns and to mitigate further transport downstream.  Coal ash removed from the river was dewatered and transported by rail for disposal at an approved landfill in Perry County, Alabama.  The remaining ash in the Swan Pond Embayment of Watts Bar Reservoir was removed in Phase 2 of the cleanup. The coal ash removed during this phase was placed in a re-engineered disposal cell on TVA property that was designed to withstand earthquake forces and then closed and capped in place.  The third and final phase consisted of a comprehensive human health and ecological risk assessment of the estimated 500,000 CYs of residual ash that was not removed from the Emory and Clinch Rivers during Phase 1 dredging work.  The entire cleanup was completed over a six-year period from 2009-2015, at an estimated cost of $1.134 billion.

In November 2012, a Monitored Natural Recovery (MNR) plan for the river system was recommended by TVA and approved by EPA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).  The approved approach relies on natural processes such as mixing, scouring and redeposition, and sedimentation (burial) to reduce the relatively low ecological risks posed by the residual ash and any input from groundwater from the closed and capped in place coal ash.  MNR proved to be effective in five years versus the 10 to 15-year time frame predicted by sediment fate and transport modeling.  Annual monitoring of the river system will continue for up to 30 years to confirm that risks associated with the residual ash remain low and that ash-related concentrations of metals continue to decline with time.  Groundwater monitoring and maintenance of the ash disposal cell on-site will also be conducted over the long term in compliance with permit requirements.

TVA has posted the complete Kingston Coal Ash Recovery Project report on its website at: ​

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