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State seeks action on coal ash spill in Price River

SALT LAKE CITY — Rocky Mountain Power has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $13,000 in connection with a storm that washed coal ash into the Price River in August, and negotiations are continuing with a water district after an inadvertent sediment release into the American Fork River.

Under the proposed settlement reached between the Utah Division of Water Quality and the utility company, Rocky Mountain Power will also complete an environmental assessment to determine downstream and upstream impacts from the coal ash release on the Price River system.

Beyond the $13,000 — the maximum penalty under state rules — Rocky Mountain Power will pay $2,385 to cover the agency's administrative costs.

The public may comment until Jan. 20 on the proposed settlement, which was reached after an Aug. 4 thunderstorm impacted a landfill capping project underway by an engineering consultant. Rocky Mountain Power had hired the firm to close and cap a coal ash landfill used since the 1960s about a mile south of its now-shuttered Carbon Power Plant.

Floodwaters from the storm overwhelmed the capping project, sending about 2,370 cubic yards of the coal ash into the Price River. The coal ash contained nearly 14 pounds of arsenic and 36 pounds of lead. The material didn't result in any fish or wildlife kills, according to the division.

While subsequent testing revealed elevated levels of iron and aluminum that exceeded water quality standards at three sites, the division said it could find no "metals signature" directly attributable to the incident.

The spill, however, was significant enough to warrant the punitive action, and Rocky Mountain Power will have to continue to monitor the river to make sure irrigation and secondary water supplies have not been negatively affected and there are no sediment concentrations harmful to public health.

The division is continuing to negotiate with the North Utah County Water Conservancy District for the Aug. 20 sediment release from the Tibble Fork Dam that killed numerous fish and deposited large amounts of metals-laden material into the American Fork River.

The district was participating in a $7.3 million restoration project at the dam and draining the reservoir when the north fork of the American Fork River eroded a large sediment bar. An estimated 8,700 cubic yards of material was washed into the lower drainage.

Two days later, an angler saw the contaminated river and fish kill. He notified state water quality regulators.

Division director Walt Baker said there are areas of disagreement between his office and the district about events of the release.

The agency will require an action plan to make sure the metal-laden sediment can be appropriately captured and disposed of during spring runoff, and impacts to irrigation and secondary water supplies are kept at a minimum.