New Study Reports Significant Environmental Problems Involving The Yadkin Project

Published: Tue Jul 15 2008

John H. Rodgers, Jr., Ph.D., a renowned water quality expert with Clemson University in South Carolina, has released a new study that indicates significant environmental problems involving the Yadkin Project, which is comprised of hydroelectric stations, dams and reservoirs along a 38-mile stretch of the Yadkin River in central North Carolina. Dr. Rodgers found that the available data clearly indicate that Badin Lake, a 5,300-acre reservoir that empties into the Yadkin River through the Narrows Dam, and the area downstream have significant human, health and ecological problems that are and will continue to be affected by dam operations.

Dr. Rogers has forwarded his concerns to the N.C. Division of Water Quality (DWQ) during the DQW’s review of a water quality certificate application for a hydroelectric power plant on the Yadkin River by the multinational firm Alcoa, which currently operates the dam. He has recommended that the contamination questions and issues be considered carefully before issuing the certificate to Alcoa, in light of the fact that the lake serves as the primary source of drinking water for Stanly County, a location for fishing and swimming, as well as an economic driver for the entire Uwharrie Lakes Region/N.C. Central Park and the State of North Carolina.

Alcoa has applied to receive a new 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to control, govern and sustain ownership of water flowing from the Yadkin River. The company must first receive a water quality certification from the DWQ under Section 401 of the Federal Clean Water Act before proceeding to the FERC review for the license. The public comment period for the certification ended May 2, and Dr. Rodgers submitted his report to the DWQ during this time. Following the two-week public comment period and facing a possible rejection from the DWQ in light of newly available information, Alcoa withdrew its original application on May 9 and offered a revised one in its place the same day. The DWQ decision is expected to take several months. In the meantime, the FERC has granted Alcoa a one-year extension of its present license.

In his public report, Dr. Rodgers highlighted existing data on how dam operations adversely impact the water quality issues, including exacerbating existing hazardous conditions. He said more studies need to be conducted to accurately gauge the contamination at the Yadkin Project.

"Careful, well-designed and comprehensive studies should be executed, initially to determine the nature, extent and magnitude of the problem(s) in Badin Lake and the immediate watershed (as well as the downstream area)," Dr. Rogers wrote. "At present, it is clear that there are problems … that are affected by and could be exacerbated by dam or hydropower operations."

Dr. Rodgers prepared his report for the Stanly County Board of Commissioners, which maintains that Alcoa has failed to clean up its past operations in the county that discharged hazardous pollutants into North Carolina air and waterways for decades and affected plant and animal ecosystems and harmed humans due to exposure or ingestion. The commissioners have argued as well that because Alcoa has exclusive hydroelectric operations on the upper Yadkin – and will maintain that exclusive status for another 50 years if FERC grants a license – it will allow Alcoa an unfair monopoly of North Carolina water rights for generations.

The Stanly County Commissioners have received strong support in opposition to Alcoa’s operation of the Yadkin Project from the Davidson, Randolph, Union, Iredell, Anson and Cabarrus County Boards of Commissioners, as well as the Centralina Council of Governments. On April 4, 2008, Governor Easley voiced his support by asking FERC not to give Alcoa a 50-year license but instead to extend Alcoa’s current license only for one (1) year to allow time to study this issue. To date, Governor Mike Easley, Lieutenant Governor and Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger have all sent letters to FERC requesting that it delay its decision so the matter can further be studied by the state.

"The results of this study point out major concerns about pollution created by Alcoa in the Yadkin Project," said Stanly County Commissioner and North Carolina Water Rights Member Lindsey Dunevant. "We respectfully request that the DWQ seriously review all items raised by Dr. Rodgers, who is a noted environmental authority, and either deny Alcoa’s request for certification or make sure that any certification granted adequately addresses the water quality issues he raises. This is a health issue for current and future Stanly County residents, as well as people further down the Yadkin who use the water for drinking, and we think the DWQ should exercise its full authority and protect Badin Lake and its users, who include the citizens of North Carolina."

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About John H. Rodgers, Jr., Ph.D.:
A recognized expert in water quality, Dr. Rodgers is a professor and director of the ecotoxicology program with the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Clemson University in South Carolina, as well as co-director of the Clemson Environmental Institute. He has worked professionally as a researcher, consultant, teacher, author and participant in ecology and environmental studies for more than 35 years on hundreds of projects. His extensive list of honors and awards include a listing in International Who’s Who and a certificate of appreciation from the Environmental Protection Agency. A member of the American Water Resources Association and the Water Pollution Control Federation, among other organizations, Dr. Rodgers earned his Ph.D. in aquatic ecology and botany at Virginia Tech in 1977.

About This Effort:
In 1958, Alcoa, the world’s leading producer of primary aluminum, secured a federal hydroelectric license for the Yadkin Project on the Yadkin River in Stanly, Davidson, Montgomery and Rowan Counties in the Central Piedmont. In return, Alcoa promised aluminum manufacturing jobs for Stanly County for years to come. Alcoa has now essentially disappeared as a major employer in the region and shut down its manufacturing plants, but it wants to continue reaping the benefits of the Yadkin River after its license expires in April of this year. In addition, Alcoa discharged hazardous pollutants into North Carolina air and waterways for decades while harvesting immense profits from the Yadkin River, but has yet to finish cleaning up that contamination. It has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to obtain another 50-year license. If Alcoa is successful, one of North Carolina’s most valuable water resources will be used to maximize Alcoa’s profits, instead of being used to benefit the people of North Carolina, who themselves are in dire need of affordable electricity, local economic development, and clean, adequate drinking water.

Patty Briguglio
MMI Associates, Inc.
(919) 233-6600
PR Firms Raleigh, NC

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