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Final Rule for Cooling Water Intake Structures-Existing Electric Generating Plants and Factories

By Sharon O. Jacobs

On May 19, 2014, the U.S. EPA released the final regulation to the Clean Water Act that follows through on a settlement agreement where they agreed to issue regulations aimed at reducing injury and death to fish and aquatic life caused by cooling water systems at large power plants and factories. Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act requires National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for facilities with cooling water intake structures to ensure that the location, design, construction and capacity of the structures reflect the best technology available to minimize harmful impacts to the environment. The rule applies to facilities that use cooling water intake structures and have or require an NPDES permit.

Many industrial sectors are affected (see the definitions in 40 CFR 125.81, 125.91 and 125.131). The new rule covers roughly 1,065 existing facilities that are designed to withdraw at least 2 million gallons per day of cooling water. EPA estimates that 521 of these facilities are factories, and the other 544 are power plants.

  • • 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 under the final rule. 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.

  • • Facilities that withdraw large amounts of water--at least 125 million gallons per day--are required to conduct studies to help their permitting authority determine whether and what site-specific controls, if any, would be required. This process will include public input.

  • • New units that add electrical generation capacity at an existing facility are required to add technology that achieves one of two alternatives under the national best technology available standards for entrainment for new units at existing facilities. The two alternatives are explained in the regulation.

For more detailed information regarding the new Section 316(b) Clean Water Act rule, visit the Federal Register website.
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