“This is an unprecedented change, to remove these lakes from coverage of the Clean Water Act, Holleman said.

But Duke Energy officials say changes have no real impact on how the company monitors the lake and that the state permitting process assures safety.

“We still have very, very strict state requirements to meet, so that doesn’t change, the lake remains protected,” Duke spokesman Bill Norton said.

Craig said the discharge into Belews Lake is primarily cooling water and possibly some stormwater.

Pollutants such as bromides, mercury, arsenic, selenium and chromium generated by the plant are diverted to the Dan River, which still remains under the protection of the Clean Water Act. Temperature limits also are placed on this wastewater.

“This change isn’t really going to change how this station is currently operated and how the station has been operated since coming online back in the ‘70s,” Craig said.

Past pollution

But Holleman said the Clean Water Act has played a vital part in ensuring Duke Energy cleans up when something goes awry.

“What worries us is will these assurances stand up when the rule is not written to protect the lake,” he said. Holleman cited the utility’s pollution problems involving selenium leaking into Belews Lake in the 1970s and early ’80s, and the 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River at the site of the utility’s retired steam station in Eden, which was torn down in 2017.

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