North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued a citation to Duke Energy for violating the conditions of its wastewater permit, Waterkeeper Alliance reports. Aerial photos taken by Waterkeeper show Duke employees pumping an estimated 61 million gallons of coal ash wastewater into a canal that feeds into the Cape Fear River.

Waterkeeper Alliance released the photos on Monday. The shots were taken on March 10, less than two months after a pipe underneath an unlined coal ash pond at Duke’s Dan River facility burst, draining between 50,000 and 82,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.

Like the Dan River, the Cape Fear River is a source of public drinking water for North Carolina residents.

After the photos were released, Duke readily admitted to dumping coal ash wastewater into a tributary of the Cape Fear River, saying it was part of a “routine maintenance” program. According to EcoWatch, state environmental regulators calculated their estimate of the amount of wastewater flushed from two wastewater lagoons based on log books kept by the company.

“After more than a week of indecisiveness, DENR conceded that Duke’s secret pumping was indeed illegal, but yet again, DENR’s action only came after Waterkeeper Alliance and the Cape Fear Riverkeeper caught Duke in the act with aerial surveillance photos,” said Donna Lisenby, Waterkeeper’s global campaign coordinator. “Once again, citizens and shrewd investigative reporters had to work overtime to pick up the slack because DENR had failed to notice this egregious dumping for several months.”

DENR and Governor Pat McCrory’s administration have been accused of maintaining a cozy relationship with energy companies. Some residents and environmental groups feel that the McCrory administration has been shielding Duke from facing consequences for pollution from its aging coal ash facilities.

Since his first gubernatorial campaign in 2008, McCrory, a former Duke employee of 28 years, received at least $1.1 million in donations from Duke Energy. After his 2012 election, McCrory appointed other former Duke employees to his administration, including Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker.

“Duke Energy has had such a cozy relationship with NC regulators and legislators for so long they don’t even think twice about breaking the law with respect to their poisonous coal ash pollution,” commented Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Peter Harrison.

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Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.