Cooling water intake standards seek to protect aquatic ecosystems

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WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 1, 2011 -- The U.S. EPA has issued proposed standards designed to protect billions of fish and other aquatic organisms drawn each year into cooling water systems at large power plants and factories.

"This proposal establishes a strong baseline level of protection and then allows additional safeguards for aquatic life to be developed through a rigorous site-specific analysis, an approach that ensures the most up to date technology available is being used. It puts implementation analysis in the hands of the permit writers, where requirements can be tailored to the particular facility," said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Water.

Under the proposed regulations, existing facilities that withdraw at least 25 percent of their water exclusively for cooling purposes and have a design intake flow of greater than 2 million gallons per day (MGD) would be required to reduce fish impingement (fish being pinned against screens or other parts of a cooling water intake structure).

To ensure flexibility, the owner or operator of the facility will be able to choose one of two options for meeting best technology available requirements for reducing impingement: They may conduct monitoring to show the specified performance standards for impingement mortality of fish and shellfish have been met, or they may demonstrate to the permitting authority that the intake velocity meets the specified design criteria.

EPA estimates that more than half of the facilities that could be impacted by this proposed rule already employ readily available technologies that are likely to put them into compliance with the proposed standard.

To address fish entrainment, EPA is proposing a site-specific determination to be made based on local concerns and on the unique circumstances of each facility.

The proposed rule establishes requirements for the facility owner to conduct comprehensive studies and develop other information as part of the permit application, and then establishes a public process, with opportunity for public input, by which the appropriate technology to reduce entrainment mortality would be implemented at each facility after considering site-specific factors.

Because new units can incorporate the most efficient, best-performing technology directly into the design stage of the project, thus lowering costs and avoiding constraints associated with technology that has already been locked in, the proposed rule would require closed-cycle cooling (cooling towers) for new units at existing facilities, as is already required for new facilities.

EPA is proposing this regulation as a result of a settlement agreement with Riverkeeper Inc. and other environmental groups.

The public will be able to comment on the proposal for 90 days upon its publication in the Federal Register. The administrator must take final action by July 27, 2012.

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