Grok Image: Lake or Waste Pond? You Decide.

by Bill Chameides | March 3rd, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 2 comments

Little Blue Run is definitely not a vacation spot. Despite an inviting name, this large body of “water” is a dump site. (NASA)

Here on the Grok we’ve touched on the vast quantities of waste stored at coal-fired power plants in landfills and ponds otherwise known as impoundments, but did you realize some of these ponds are visible from space? Take a look.

Little Blue Run – Not for Swimming

See that lovely blue jewel? It sits on the border of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and it’s a body of water, right? Sort of. Don’t be fooled by its color. It’s actually the largest coal waste pond in the East. It’s the Little Blue Run waste pond though locals sometimes call it “Blue Lake” or “Little Blue” (see related article).

An astronaut’s view of a ‘jewel-toned lake,’ which is actually a waste pond. (Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center)

Sweet-sounding Name but Is It Appropriate?

  • “Little” is reassuring for a repository of coal waste, but this guy is approximately 1,100 acres. Not quite little in my book.
  • And what’s up with the terms “pond” or “lake”? It’s a repository for waste, and it’s nearing capacity, so why dress it with words we associate with natural beauty?
  • “Blue” is soothing and I guess appropriate given its color. But it’s hardly natural – as a waste pond, it’s primarily devoid of life. And the neon blue comes from the material used to capture airborne pollutants at the coal-fired power plant that has created the waste pond. The Ohio River to the north of the pond is the color the pond would be if it were a natural reservoir.

Bigger Than the Great Wall of China?

Remember the excitement when it was reported that the Great Wall of China could be viewed from space? Apparently, that was a myth. But this image is not. This waste site is so big, a camera on a satellite caught this image.

Little Blue Run is an unlined impoundment that belongs to the Bruce Mansfield coal-fired power plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. (Burning some 24,000 tons of coal a day makes it the country’s eleventh biggest carbon dioxide-emitting power plants [source].)

Pennsylvania has 11 of such coal ash waste ponds that are large enough to need dam permits, five of which have “high-hazard” classifications.

Some Details on Little Blue’s Waste Stream

  • Bruce Mansfield, which is owned by the Ohio-based First Energy Corporation, sends about 4.2 million cubic yards of waste annually to the pond via a seven-mile-long underground pipe.
  • The waste is mostly a mixture of wet fly ash and “scrubber slurry,” which is the stuff generated by the pollution-control devices that “wash out” acid gases (ironic, huh?).
  • All that waste is held in place by the 485-foot tall dam (which has the quaint name of Little Blue Run Dam).

Judging from what was found in the Kingston coal-ash spill, I’m sure the folks around Little Blue hope it holds. Or they’ll be more than a little blue.

More Views and Reading Materials

Another view of the “lake”

Draft Engineering Site Visit Report [pdf] for First Energy Corp. Bruce Mansfield Power Plant

DEP Permits Demonstration Project at Little Blue Run in Beaver County – news release

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  1. KS
    Nov 11, 2009

    I can see my house on Google Earth. The picture was taken with a satellite. The fact that it can be seen from space is no longer that impressive.

  2. Drew
    Sep 30, 2009

    Being from the area and a being subcontracted by First Energy to work/maintain the “lake”, I felt the need to inform you that , 1. the name Little Blue comes from name the valley was called before it was purchased by FE, “Little Blue Run”. 2. Its not blue anymore, Its grey and it has formed into a hard concrete- like area. FE does everything possible to prevent all hazards from this, following EPA regulations (The EPA is a joke, All they worry about is saving a few trees),

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