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CWA §316(b): Cooling Water Intake Structures Subtitled: Why Industrial Facilities May Soon Be Investing in Fish Hatcheries, Estuaries and Wetlands

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Historically, USEPA's NPDES permitting system has been used to control the effluent discharged from an industrial site. However, USEPA's recently promulgated CWA §316(b) regulation (Fed. Reg., Dec. 18, 2001) and two other related regs to be issued in the near-term future will use the NPDES permitting process to control the withdrawal of water at industrial facilities in the US.

Section §316(b) requires that the location, design, construction and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available (BTA) for minimizing adverse environmental impact. More than 48,500 industrial facilities use large volumes of cooling water from lakes, rivers, estuaries or oceans to cool their plants, including steam electric power plants, pulp and paper makers, chemical manufacturers, petroleum refiners, and manufacturers of primary metals like iron and steel and aluminum. Collectively, industrial facilities in the United States withdraw more than 279 billion gallons of cooling water a day from waters of the US.

Why is USEPA issuing regulations to control the withdrawal of water from a waterbody? Cooling water intake structures cause adverse environmental impact by pulling large numbers of fish and shellfish or their eggs into a power plant's or factory's cooling system (entrainment). There, the organisms may be killed or injured by heat, physical stress, or by chemicals used to clean the cooling system. Larger organisms may be killed or injured when they are trapped against screens at the front of an intake structure (impingement). These new rules establish requirements that will help preserve aquatic organisms and the ecosystems they inhabit.

Is this a serious problem? Perhaps. USEPA cites dozens of studies in the preamble to their December 18 regulation. A typical example is their study of water intake at the Coleman Power Plant on the Ohio River in Henderson, Kentucky. Studies indicate this power plant has combined average impingement and entrainment losses of 702,630,800 fish per year. Many other studies cite similarly large losses of aquatic species including those on a threatened or endangered list. (Facilities located on waterbodies inhabited by endangered species should be especially wary of this regulation.)

This paper will:

Review EPA's mandates in the newly promulgated CWA §316(b) regulations regarding the water intake structures for industrial facilities,

Discuss the applicability of this new rule to industrial facilities, and

Discuss the probable impact of the rule on industrial facilities

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2003

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