DNR hearing: Wisconsin River contaminated by coal plant
By Taylor J. Hale
PORTAGE — The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) is having a public hearing on Feb. 12 to discuss the proposed re-issuance of the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit for the Wisconsin Power and Light Co., Columbia Energy Center.
The coal plant, located roughly only an hour south of Portage County, may continue to contaminate the Wisconsin River and surrounding floodplain marshes. Sierra Club, the national organization with many local grassroots chapters, is rallying a “testifying” group to attend the hearing, located in the city of Portage.
The outcome of the hearings will have a widespread effect on the Wisconsin River and its watershed ecosystems.
“The DNR is required to include in the permit a plan that replaces the mixing of coal ash and water with a dry coal ash handling process that limits potential water pollution,” said Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative Elizabeth Katt Reinders. “The draft permit the DNR has issued for Columbia coal plant does not include this plan. There are federal standards in the Clean Water Act called the Effluent Limitation Guidelines that the DNR should be applying to water permits for Wisconsin coal plants, but it doesn’t for the Columbia permit.”
The outcome of the oversight means that the coal plant could continue to utilize outdated processes that jeopardize the Wisconsin River and the surrounding groundwater. Main concerns are Columbia’s coal ash ponds overflowing into the riverway and leaching into other water sources. Several powerful groups control the Columbia plant.
“Wisconsin Power and Light, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, is the majority owner and the operator of the Columbia Energy Center,” Katt Reinders said. “Co-owners of the plant include Wisconsin Public Service, a subsidiary of WEC Energy, and Madison Gas & Electric.”
The chemical seepage into Wisconsin waters will have severe repercussions according to Sierra Club members.
“Wastewater from coal plants contains a toxic mess of heavy metals like mercury and lead, arsenic, nutrients and other nasty chemicals that are known to be harmful to humans and aquatic life, even in small amounts,” Katt Reinders said. “These pollutants do not degrade over time. In fact, some of them bio-accumulate, which means their concentrations increase as they travel up the food chain.”
If the permit is approved, Columbia will be able to continue to contaminate the region’s water sources. Sierra Club leaders are pushing for the permit to include language about federal pollutant regulation.
“The DNR should apply the federal water pollution standards known as the Effluent Limitation Guidelines to the Columbia coal plant water permit to require the company to change the way it handles coal ash,” Katt Reinders explained. “Thereby ending the ongoing contribution to potential water contamination.”
Katt Reinders views the hearing as a means for Stevens Point natives to preserve their regional environment.
“Stevens Point has always been a leader in conservation,” she said. “This is another opportunity for the community to continue that tradition and call for better protections on some of our most important waterways.”
To learn more about the hearing visit https://dnr.wi.gov/calendar/hearings/?id=11947. For more info on Sierra Club campaigns and programs visit https://www.sierraclub.org/home.
Email [email protected] if you would like to attend the hearing, located at the Portage Public Library in Columbia County, as part of the Sierra Club group.