Recently, law suits were filed in Federal courts in New York, San Francisco and Boston against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries (both federal agencies) by environmental groups. They hope to establish a clear standard that better protects the hundreds of aquatic species near the 1,065 power plants in the United States. In its suit the coalition says that the two agencies did not properly account for wildlife impacts in an opinion provided to the EPA, which regulates the cooling systems at the power plants.
In dispute is the use of “once through” cooling systems still used by 1,000 of America’s oldest power plants. This system withdraws billions of gallons of water from large outside sources like rivers, lakes, bays and other water bodies. The heat from the power plant is absorbed by the water and is then discharged back into the water body. The only protections for wildlife in this process are screens across the vents and intakes. According to the lawsuit the systems still “kill or seriously injure aquatic organisms by crushing larger fish and other animals against the system intake screens … and pulling eggs, larvae, and smaller organisms through.” The death toll includes hundreds of endangered species of fish, shellfish and other marine life like sea turtles, orcas, Hudson River sturgeon and Pacific Northwest salmon and trout. Also of concern is the effect of the discharged water temperature on the ecosystem or on the marine animals that need a certain temperature to live.
Many of the power plants use a “closed cycle” cooling technology that recycles most of the water used, avoiding the constant intakes that can harm wildlife. It has been available for decades and can reduce fish kills, habitat disruption and water withdrawals by 95%. Environmentalists would like to see the power plants using the once through cooling systems retrofitted to the newer system.
Among the group bringing the suit were the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sarasota based Suncoast Waterkeeper. In an article in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Justin Bloom, the Executive Director of Suncoast Waterkeeper said that the once through technology is common in power plants in Florida. Bloom said that five power plants in the Tampa Bay region use the antiquated technology including Tampa Electric’s big Bend Power Station, which is located along the bay just north of the Manatee County line.