Power Plants Kill Fish - Treading Water report

The power industry uses more water than any other sector of the US economy. Nearly all of this water is used for once-through cooling  G, an outdated process that uses enormous volumes of water and discharges it back into the environment at an alarmingly elevated temperature. In the process those cooling systems kill and injure much of the aquatic life near the intake pipe and the heated discharge water alters surrounding ecosystems, compounding the damage.

A new report, "Treading Water: How States Can Minimize the Impact of Power Plants on Aquatic Life," (executive summary available here) released by GRACE Communications Foundation in partnership with a coalition of regional and national environmental groups, underscores the need for states to ramp up their protections for the water and aquatic life that existing electric generating power plants withdraw from and discharge into lakes, rivers, harbors and estuaries. (See the 10/2/13 press release.)

"Treading Water" examines whether state agencies are prepared to institute new standards regarding the use of highly destructive power plant cooling systems, given a lack of clear federal guidance on the issue. In November 2013 the US Environmental Protection Agency is expected to finalize new water pollution standards for cooling water intake structures at existing power plants.  The proposed rule would place the burden on state environmental agencies to revisit 600 old power plants and determine whether they should continue to use outdated industrial cooling systems or install the "best technology available": closed-cycle cooling  G.

The report identifies best practices from around the country to help state officials compare their industrial cooling water policies against those of other states. The report is also designed to give concerned citizens and environmental organizations the facts they need to advocate for protection of America’s lakes, rivers, oceans and estuaries.

The states covered in this report are broadly representative of the wide spectrum of permitting practices across the US:

  • California and Delaware have made it their official policy to push every power plant within their borders to finally move to closed-cycle cooling technology (although their follow-through has been lacking). 
  • Illinois has not re-examined the cooling systems at many power plants for more than 30 years.
  • States like Louisiana, Texas and Ohio are re-analyzing cooling systems periodically, but have signaled through public comments and permitting practices that they believe older power plants should rarely, if ever, be required to upgrade to closed-cycle systems. 
  • Other states covered in the report include Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York.