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Rockingham Co. farmers concerned about coal ash spill

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RUFFIN, N.C. -- The massive coal ash spill in Eden is causing concern for farmers who use water from the Dan River to water their crops.

In Ruffin, farmer Michael Powell says he depends on the Dan River to irrigate his 30 acres of tobacco along the river banks.

“We pump like 800 or 900 gallons a minute when we're irrigating,” Powell said. “It's quite a few gallons of water that's pulled out of there.”

It's water that he and other farmers are now worried they won't be able to use this summer after a Duke Energy pipe burst on Feb. 2, spilling more than 80,000 tons of coal ash into the river.

“I really didn't want to believe it to be honest with you,” Powell said.

His farm sits just three to four miles downstream from where the spill happened in Eden.

Powell says irrigation isn't his only concern but also flooding.

“When it flows out of the banks here and goes to flood stage, it will come out then it covers all the land out here,” Powell said, pointing to his rows of tobacco. “How is it going to affect us? Nobody knows.”

DENR officials say they don't know what the effect of flooding from the river could have on soil.

Environmentalists have been sampling the water and started testing fish on Monday.

Even though the spill has stopped, tons of ash is still left at the bottom of the river, leaving farmers like Powell hoping for a rainy summer.

“If Mother Nature is good to us, I won't need any,” Powell said. “I hope that's the case.”