- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Dominion Virginia Power plans to begin releasing treated coal ash wastewater into the James River at the Bremo Power Station.

The state’s largest electric utility is planning to begin discharging the water Wednesday as it moves to close coal ash impoundments at power plants.

Dominion says it will treat 240 Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth of water through May 2017. The company says the release water will be safe for the environment.

Coal ash is the waste product left after burning coal.

Before coal ash impoundments can be sealed, a process called dewatering must be conducted to treat and discharge water that has pooled atop coal ash to depths approaching 10 feet, as well as water saturating the ash.

Here’s an abridged version of the treatment:

Water pumped from the ponds is drained at a slow pace to remove sediment and ash. With the water stored in holding tanks, oxygen is pumped in. That has the effect of settling solids such as metals. A second step increases the pH, or acidity, level of the water, which essentially has the same result. Then more metals are removed when the water goes into a series of tanks with what is called a flocculent. That makes the metal and sediment all stick together. Once they’re stuck together, a sludge is created that can be collected.

The next steps put the water through a series of filters with finer and finer membrane, and from there the water goes into tanks before adjusting downward the pH level. A high pH level could harm wildlife in the river. The final step returns the water to a series of tanks where the water is sampled to ensure metal concentrations are within state-permitted limits before release into the river.

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