Fly ash dam condition evaluation report released


The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has released a report on the condition of the various fly ash impoundment dams and landfills throughout West Virginia.


The report is the final product of a review ordered by Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman following the failure of a substantial fly ash dam in Tennessee last December.


“Our staff engineers conducted field inspections and aerial surveillance of all jurisdictional fly ash dams, and no imminent danger of fly ash release was observed,” said Brian Long, coordinator for the DEP’s Dam Safety Program. “However, the inspections did result in the discovery of two fly ash dams that were not in the DEP inventory and were inadvertently constructed large enough for jurisdiction under the Dam Safety Act.”


With the discovery of the additional two dams, a total of 20 dams were inspected in the state. Sixteen are actively being used for fly ash disposal and four are inactive.


Based upon the National Inventory of Dams criteria, of the 20 fly ash dams in West Virginia, eight are in satisfactory condition, seven are in fair, three are in poor and two are in unsatisfactory condition.


“We were able to identify stability issues along some embankment slopes, but largely the problems we noted involved control of animals and vegetation,” Long said. “The agency is requiring the owners to address any issues found at their sites to bring them into satisfactory condition. In addition, we issued an Administrative Order to AEP for the two dams that were discovered during the DEP inspections to compel compliance with current dam safety standards.”


In addition to inspection by the Dam Safety engineers, staff from the Division of Mining and Reclamation reviewed the potential for breakthrough into underground mines. Five dams have mining under the dam or reservoir, but according to documents submitted by the owners and reviewed by the DMR staff the mining activity is at a sufficient depth to prevent potential breakthrough. The remaining facilities are in areas without documented underground mining.


Hazard potential classifications, which do not reflect the condition of a dam, but rather the damage that could potentially occur downstream if a dam were to fail, are also listed in the report. 


In addition to field inspections, Dam Safety engineers reviewed documentation of current embankment stability provided by engineers secured by the owners.


In addition to inspecting the dams, fifteen permitted dry coal combustion by-product landfills were inspected. These inspections, conducted by Environmental Enforcement staff, resulted in one Administrative Order, three Notices of Violation and one warning. Six coal combustion by-product impoundments were also inspected and one warning was issued as a result of those inspections.


In addition to monitoring the dams to ensure the requirements are met, the Dam Safety Program will review applications and associated engineering documents to ensure that proposed modifications meet safety standards.


The report can be found on the DEP’s website on the Environmental Enforcement page under the General Information heading on the right side of the page; or it can be accessed at the following URL address:


Kathy Cosco