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EPA Finalizes Cooling Water Intake Standards

The EPA has finalized standards for cooling water intakes at large power plants and factories.

“This impacts a number of manufacturing facilities, and each one is going to be different,” Chip Yost, assistant vice president for energy at the National Association of Manufacturers, told Bloomberg News. “We’ll have to see who packs up.”

The agency estimates 2.1 billion fish, crabs, and shrimp are killed annually by being pinned against cooling water intake structures (impingement) or being drawn into cooling water systems and affected by heat, chemicals, or physical stress (entrainment).

The final rule establishes requirements under the Clean Water Act for all existing power generating facilities and existing manufacturing and industrial facilities that withdraw more than 2 million gallons per day of water from waters of the US and use at least 25 percent of the water they withdraw exclusively for cooling purposes. This rule covers roughly 1,065 existing facilities — 521 of these facilities are factories, and the other 544 are power plants. The technologies required under the rule have are in use at over 40 percent of facilities.

There are three components to the final regulation.

  1. Existing facilities that withdraw at least 25 percent of their water from an adjacent waterbody exclusively for cooling purposes and have a design intake flow of greater than 2 million gallons per day are required to reduce fish impingement. To ensure flexibility, the owner or operator of the facility will be able to choose one of seven options for meeting best technology available requirements for reducing impingement.
  2. Facilities that withdraw very large amounts of water — at least 125 million gallons per day — are required to conduct studies to help the permitting authority determine what site-specific entrainment mortality controls, if any, will be required. This process will include public input.
  3. New units at an existing facility that are built to increase the generating capacity of the facility are be required to reduce the intake flow to a level similar to a closed cycle, recirculation system. Closed-cycle systems are the most effective at reducing entrainment. This can be done by incorporating a closed-cycle system into the design of the new unit, or by making other design changes equivalent to the reductions associated with closed-cycle cooling.
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