The Cooling Water Rules Are Coming!

March 1, 2002
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman recently signed the proposed cooling water intake rules for existing power-producing facilities. Now is the time to prepare and submit comments.

By Kathy L. Pursley

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman recently signed the proposed cooling water intake rules for existing power-producing facilities. Now is the time to prepare and submit comments. Interested parties can find a link to the prepublication copy of the existing facilities proposed rule as well as other 316b implementation documents at

EPA clearly intends to regulate existing facilities in the same manner as new facilities. A review of the 2994 pages of public comments sparked by the recently finalized new facilities rule, and the pre-publication version of the proposed existing facilities rule, reveals that the power industry, which is already strapped with the unexpected consequences of deregulation, will now have to do substantial work to renew existing NPDES permits.

EPA estimates the proposed rule will affect 550 existing facilities and cost $182 million per year. This figure seems significantly low.

Facilities can expect to spend a great deal more time and money preparing NPDES permit renewals after the new rule becomes final. The permit renewals must be submitted 180 days prior to the expiration of the current NPDES permit and applications (after the proposed rule becomes final sometime around August 28, 2003) must include documentation on one of the three alternatives. Facilities must demonstrate one of these:

1. That intake capacity is reduced to closed-cycle or recirculation cooling system levels or impingement mortality of all life stages of fish and shellfish is reduced by 80 to 95% or by 60 to 90% depending on whether the capacity utilization rate is below or above 15% respectively.

2. Or, that the design and construction technologies, operational measures and restoration measures will combine to meet the reduced impingement mortality rates above.

3. Or, that the facility has an appropriate and site-specific best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact.

The proposed rule covers facilities that withdraw cooling water for power generation, including that portion of intake used for cogeneration. This regulation will lengthen the payback period for those forward-thinking companies that have been looking at cogeneration projects as a way to obtain more consistent and reliable power. Companies will have to spend more on cogeneration projects to limit the cogen cooling water intake to less than 25% of the total facility intake or they will limit the size of the cogen project. Both of these are bad at a time when the economy has suffered downturns and the energy market has fluctuated unpredictably.

Power companies will find themselves hunting for biologists and wildlife experts to conduct impingement surveys and restoration projects in lieu of limiting intake below the 50 mgd thresholds. It is not a very big stretch to imagine power utilities operating fish hatcheries. The alternative will be retrofitting cooling water recirculation projects. All of this is good for the biologists, the fish, and the water reuse technology companies, but bad for the utilities and the ratepayers. At least if the electric bill continues to cut into the grocery bill, we should all be able to go fishing.

After it finishes with the existing power-generation facilities, EPA will be tackling the low-flow facilities including the offshore and coastal oil and gas facilities in its Phase III rules. The proposal of those rules is expected in June 2003. Those should be public meetings worth watching.

Kathy L. Pursley
[email protected]

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