Reality Check: Why people are still waiting for Duke Energy to provide permanent water

Geneva Shade is one of 40 people in Arden who initially received a letter to pick a permanent water supply (Photo credit: WLOS)

A state law requires Duke Energy to provide a permanent water supply for some people in Arden, but the process seems to be stalled.

Then-Gov. Pat McCrory on July 14, 2016, signed a bill into law forcing Duke Energy to provide a permanent water supply to some people across the state who live near the company's coal-fired power plants.

Duke sent letters to those people around January. The envelope included a card, which was to be mailed back, asking residents to pick a water supply option. About a month ago, a Duke Energy spokesperson said people who had filled out the cards were still waiting for two reasons:

  1. DEQ hadn't set the performance standards for people who chose filtration systems. (This has just happened.)
  2. A low response rate from people who received the letters.

Geneva Shade grew up in Arden having to carry water from her neighbors' wells. About the time the coal-fired power plant opened in 1964, Shade got her own well.

"It was a life savior. We had our source of water," the 83-year-old said.

Now, every week, Shade gets a shipment of bottled water, which Duke pays for. She lives in one of the 40 homes in the area that originally received a letter from Duke offering a filtration system for the well or to be connected to city water. Homeowners could also choose to opt out. Duke's list in Arden dropped to 23 after the company learned 17 homes were already on city water.

"We have city water. The whole area has city water," Diana Mills explained about Ducker Road.

But two addresses on the street got letters.

A visit to every address on the list of 23 showed a majority of them are already on city water.

"We've been on city water ever since I've been here," Chris Hicks said.

He's been on Glenview Place his whole life. Hicks said four homes on the road received letters, even though everybody on the street has city water.

So, why does the list include so many people who are already on city water?

"Our consultant sat down with the city, initially, last fall to review the list, and we have continued to work closely with them to refine it," Duke spokesperson Danielle Peoples said.

A city of Asheville spokesperson said the initial list of addresses Duke sent letters to came from a public information request.

"City staff sat down with Duke Energy representatives, initially, to get an understanding of what they were asking. The city may have answered a few followup questions," City of Asheville Communications Specialist Polly McDaniel said.

So far, only seven people out of the initial list of 40 have responded to Duke. Nobody in Arden has selected a filtration system. Some of those people are already on city water, so only a few people will actually be getting a connection to city water.

Shade is one of the ones who hasn't responded.

"After I talk to a lawyer," is when Shade said she'll respond.

The state law asserted a river can block contaminants. So, the people who received letters in Arden live on the west side of the French Broad, which is the side the power plant sits on. In a document, Duke estimated paying for 40 households would cost $548,400. Since Duke will not be paying for 40 homes, News 13 asked if the power company would take some of the savings to connect people east of the river with contaminated wells to city water.

"No, the folks who are being offered a water treatment system are only receiving that option because of the technical feasibility of expanding the current public water system. We’ve worked closely with the city on that analysis," Peoples said.

The offer for permanent water came with an offer of $5,000. If a person takes the money, it could limit future legal claims. A person can select a permanent water choice without choosing to take the cash.

Test results from Shade's well identified several problems. Her well had 0.29 parts per billion of hexavalent chromium. The state Department of Health and Human Services previously used a 0.07 to advise people not to drink their water. Shade's well had a pH of 5.5, while state standards are between 6.5-8.5. Shade also had 0.47 parts per billion of vanadium. The state standard is 0.3.

When Duke called Shade to follow up about when she would select an option, she said she told company officials she doesn't trust the company.

"No! I don't believe in telling lies. So, I told them how I felt. They're not God. They didn't put this water here. That's how I feel about it," Shade said.

Duke said it is not responsible for the contamination in people's wells. The law signed last year requires Duke to have the permanent water supplies in place by October 2018.

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