The nation's power plants withdraw more than 200 billion gallons of water each day from America's rivers, lakes, estuaries and ocean. Of course, it's not just water getting slurped up – each year, 2 billion fish and 528 billion eggs and larvae are sucked in along with that water and destroyed by those same power plants, too.
How and why is this happening?
Nearly all of this water is used for once-through cooling G, an outdated process that uses enormous volumes of water to produce and cool the steam used to spin power plant turbines and generate electricity (the water is also used to cool related equipment, which can get pretty hot). The power industry withdraws more water than any other sector of the US economy – more than agriculture and more than the municipal systems that deliver water to Americans at home. To add injury to insult, power plants discharge used cooling water back into the environment at alarmingly high temperatures, altering surrounding ecosystems and compounding the damage.
"Given the power industry's current heavy reliance on water resources, water-friendlier electricity generation is a key part of a more sustainable energy future."
A new report released today by GRACE Communications Foundation and a coalition of regional and national environmental groups explains that – owing to weak federal rules – states will need to ramp up their protections for the water and aquatic life that existing electric generating power plants depend upon so greatly.
The report, Treading Water: How States Can Minimize the Impact of Power Plants on Aquatic Life, goes further and examines whether state agencies are truly prepared to institute new standards regarding the use of these highly destructive power plant cooling systems.
The timing of the report is especially important because this November, the US EPA is expected to finalize new standards for cooling systems at existing power plants (new power plants are already covered). However, as proposed, EPA's safeguards fall short and place the entire burden on state environmental agencies. The result is that overworked and understaffed state agencies will have to revisit permits for 600 old power plants and determine whether they should continue to use outdated cooling systems or invest in modern cooling technology.
The report identifies best practices from around the country to help state officials compare their 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.
As GRACE's own Kyle Rabin says, "Given the power industry's current heavy reliance on water resources, water-friendlier electricity generation is a key part of a more sustainable energy future."