Guest Post by Emily Franc, Vice President of Development/Philanthropy, Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN)
The Greater Washington Community Foundation manages The Spring Creek Environmental and Preservation Fund, of which the Potomac Riverkeeper Network was a grantee in 2019, 2018 and 2016. The Spring Creek fund was created to support local nonprofit organizations with a demonstrated track record in successfully preserving, protecting or encouraging sustainable use of exceptional natural or built environments in the Greater Washington region, particularly those environments affecting low-income populations.
Possum Point is a sleepy rural community of families and military veterans who live a simple life along Quantico Creek and the Potomac River. Dan and Patty Marrow chose to raise their three children on Possum Point Road because they believed it was a safe, wholesome community. Little did they know that carcinogens had been leaching from toxic coal ash ponds owned by the nearby Dominion Power Plant through ground water, slowly poisoning their drinking wells. Residents of Possum Point and other communities across Virginia were unaware of the dangers of living next to coal ash ponds.
That is until newly hired Potomac Riverkeeper, Dean Naujoks, came on the scene in 2015, fresh from battling Duke Energy and its leaking ash ponds in North Carolina. Those lessons learned proved invaluable in the fight to bring polluters to justice and uphold regulations that protect human health and our drinking water supply.
We assume when we turn on our tap, clean water will come out. The Clean Water Act legitimizes our right to clean water, but right here in the Washington, DC, region, our Riverkeepers uncover illegal pollution regularly. Ensuring enforcement of Clean Water laws, Riverkeepers become the last line of defense, protecting our waterways on the public’s behalf.
Photos from Possum Point, showing ash piles being bulldozed into Pond D. Photos by Alan Lehman, Potomac Riverkeeper Network.
What Dean uncovered at Possum Point was alarming – water containing heavy metals called seeps had been leaking from unlined ash ponds for decades into the creek. Independent lab test results of private drinking wells around Possum Point, commissioned and paid for by Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN), proved “untreated water from the wells at the properties addressed [on] Possum Point Road should not be used for potable purposes.” The wells were contaminated by a cocktail of carcinogenic metals linked to coal ash proving ground water contamination had moved off-site into residential drinking wells.
“It is not easy to tell someone you believe their drinking wells are contaminated and unknowingly poisoning them,” said Naujoks, “but at the same time they have a right to know if their water is safe to drink!”
With growing momentum, PRKN hosted public forums attended by hundreds of people, engaged elected officials, and mobilized coalition partners and the public to join our “Move Your Ash” coal ash campaign. Property owners on Possum Point Road became outspoken after learning that their children had been exposed to unsafe well water for decades. Our coalition’s outreach committee generated over 1,000 calls, emails, and letters to elected officials in support of coal ash legislation.
In January of this year, the Virginia legislature passed a bill requiring at least 7 million of the 30 million tons of coal ash in the state to be recycled and the rest safely landfilled within 15 years! Without a Riverkeeper conducting investigations, informing the public, and pressuring state agencies to take action, these decades of unimpeded pollution would have continued.
This story is just one of dozens of toxic threats we investigate annually. Taking the time to deeply investigate and understand the nature of threats to water quality, while locating the actual individual sources of pollution is critical to our approach, credibility, and success.
We are grateful for the support of the Greater Washington Community Foundation’s family of donors and the Spring Creek Environmental Fund for their stalwart support of our efforts. Together, we took on Dominion and took back our right to clean water.
Potomac Riverkeeper Network works to protect the public’s right to clean water in our rivers and streams by stopping pollution to promote safe drinking water, protecting healthy river habitats, and enhancing public use and enjoyment. Learn more.