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DEC Policy To Reduce Cooling Water Intake Fish Kills By 90 Percent

Originally Posted: July 21, 2011

Albany - Power plants and other industrial facilities throughout the state will be required to use the Best Technology Available (BTA) to protect aquatic wildlife when seeking cooling water intake permits under a new policy finalized by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). A BTA determination is required in each State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit for industrial facilities operating a cooling water intake system.

"Billions of fish are killed each year when they are caught up in the intake of cooling water for industrial processes," Commissioner Joe Martens said. "The policy we are implementing will reduce fish kills by 90 percent while allowing flexibility for the industry to reach our goal of protecting aquatic wildlife."

Throughout New York State, more than 16 billion gallons of water are permitted to be withdrawn each day for the purposes of industrial cooling. As a result, more than 17 billion fish of all life stages (eggs, larvae, juveniles and adults) are entrained or impinged annually. The policy outlines mitigation measures that facilities must implement in order to minimize impacts to fish and other aquatic organisms from the intake of billions of gallons of the state's surface waters. Implementation of this policy through the permitting process is anticipated to significantly reduce these losses of the state's aquatic resource.

Fish of all life stages can be subject to entrainment, passing through a plant's cooling systems along with the cooling water, or to impingement, where they are smashed against the intake structure directly. They can suffer from lethally high water temperatures, contact with impellers or heat-exchangers, or from exposure to the chemicals used to maintain heat-exchanger cleanliness. Steam electric power plants account for the majority, though not all, of this industrial cooling impact, with some power plants using more than a billion gallons of water every day for cooling purposes. Other industries in New York using non-contact cooling water include manufacturing facilities (e.g. cement and sugar industry) and large office buildings.

The policy identifies closed-cycle cooling or its equivalent as the performance goal for BTA to minimize these impacts. Many existing facilities use once-through cooling where water is drawn into the facility, passed through the cooling system, and then discharged back into the waterbody. Fish and other organisms are killed or injured in the process. Closed-cycle cooling systems, such as cooling towers, use significantly less water and recirculate the water they use, reducing millions of gallons of water that is actually withdrawn from the water body. This, in turn, greatly reduces the impingement and entrainment of organisms - by more than 90 percent.

However, closed-cycle cooling is not always an available technology for existing facilities as issues of space availability and compatibility of new technology with the facility's original design frequently make it infeasible to implement. The performance goal of the policy allows facilities to propose an alternative mitigative technology, or operational measure, such as flow reduction, to achieve reductions in impact equivalent to what could be realized with cooling towers. This provides flexibility to the industry in designing a mitigative system while ensuring that aquatic impacts are reduced to the greatest extent possible.

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