The 50 Year Fight for the Yadkin River (e.g. Bringing Dead Waters Back to Life)
As we celebrate Earth Day 2013, River Network, a national support center for grassroots river conservation, celebrates its silver anniversary by highlighting twenty-five success stories and lessons learned from water advocates across the U.S. River Network; and applauds Yadkin Riverkeeper and citizens throughout the Yadkin River basin for opposing Alcoa’s bid for a 50-year license.
In 2008, Yadkin Riverkeeper Inc. began working closely with Stanly County Commissioners, community leaders and the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic to investigate Alcoa’s historic legacy of contamination, in a concerted effort to restore the health of the community and the health of Badin Lake. Through vigorous testing, research and evidentiary discovery, Alcoa was exposed for misleading state and federal officials regarding compliance with dissolved oxygen, violating its 401 Water Quality Certification which the state subsequently revoked. Alcoa has since dropped its revocation appeal and is reapplying for new certification.
For years Alcoa buried the hazardous material throughout Badin at 44 identified locations, which are capped, but not lined. As a result, buried waste continues to contaminate the soil, ground and surface water years after aluminum production ceased. According to Alcoa’s 2008 NPDES Permit, “The results indicate that the seep contains significant concentrations of cyanide and fluoride; and causes measurable increases in the in-stream concentrations of both pollutants.”
Alcoa also failed in its storage, treatment and/or disposal of hazardous wastes. The multinational corporation has settled claims with more than 100 residents who have been harmed or had family members die due to exposure to contaminants linked to the smelter. Over the past 90 years, cyanide, fluoride, PCBs, PAHs and other toxins, including arsenic, were generated and disposed of through Alcoa’s 13 outfall pipes leading directly into the water.
Due to the toxic outputs caused by the smelter, fish consumption advisories are now posted at Badin Lake warning against consuming anything over 6 ounces of largemouth bass and/or catfish per week. Children, ages 15 and under, and women who are pregnant are advised against consuming any fish at all. After years of denying responsibility, Alcoa finally acknowledge contaminating Badin Lake and quickly proposed a low cost PCB “capping” project for 3 acres of the 5,357-acre lake. However its proposed remediation plan is inadequate due to the fact that no comprehensive study or ecological risk assessment has been conducted to determine the scope and breadth of contamination to the lake and further downstream.
Pressure from Yadkin Riverkeeper and local community members led to the NC Department of Health and Human Services conducting additional PCB fish and sediment sampling last year, spanning more than 60 river miles. The state has yet to issue its report.
“We have been waiting for the state to issue an official report on its PCB testing results, but some of the preliminary testing data already reveals much of the Yadkin Project, which Alcoa has been responsible for managing, is contaminated with PCBs. Alcoa has been a bad steward of the Yadkin River and should not be rewarded with a 50-year license,” said Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks. “We are grateful that River Network has highlighted this important fight for the Yadkin as one of its top 25 clean water stories.”
Growth over the past quarter century of the watershed protection movement is one of the great under-reported success stories in conservation. In 1988 there were perhaps 200 state or local groups whose primary purpose was to protect freshwater resources. Today, there are more than 2,000.
Tens of thousands of passionate, dedicated grassroots leaders have contributed in their own way – and together they have forged a thriving and dynamic movement. As the hub of a national network, River Network is helping groups like Yadkin Riverkeeper share and replicate these successes in communities nationwide.
“From the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, the groups River Network has
featured in its 25th Anniversary River Voices have found success in many arenas – dam removal, river cleanups, habitat restoration, water quality monitoring and numerous strategies to reduce water pollution,” said Todd Ambs, River Network president. “They provide a portrait-in-time of the diversity and richness of the watershed protection movement.”
All twenty-five stories are available for download at http://www.rivernetwork.org/resource-library/25-lessons-25-years.