Utilities ordered to kill fewer fish
Electric companies have till fall of 2007
to make changes
The Toledo Blade
To the naked eye, it looks like an ecological disaster:
Thousands of dead fish near the shoreline of Lake Erie's
Maumee Bay east of Toledo. Much to the chagrin of commercial
fisherman Frank Reynolds, though, it's a sight that occurs
far too often - almost daily, he says, near the intake
of FirstEnergy Corp.'s coal-fired Bay Shore power plant
Sadly, Bay Shore is not alone. The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency estimates that nearly 550 large power
plants across the country - those with cooling-water capacities
of 50 million gallons a day or more - are needlessly killing
off fish. Fish die because they get caught up in the powerful
intake currents. Larger fish bang against grated screens
hard and succumb to injury, fatigue, or starvation. Smaller
fish and minnows elude the screens and pass through the
plant. A few survive the trauma, but most die, officials
The problem - long presumed to be one of the unfortunate
trade-offs of generating electricity - may be older than
the 32-year history of the nation's Clean Water Act itself.
But the U.S. EPA, in responding to a court order brought
on by those hoping to minimize losses, announced Feb.
16, that it will use the Clean Water Act as its legal
muscle for protecting fish.
In rules published July 9, the agency said power plants
have until the fall of 2007 to make the kind of adjustments
necessary to reduce the number of fish pinned against
intake screens by 80 to 95 percent, whether that means
installing expensive cooling towers or simply readdressing
their long-standing flow regimes and plant screens.
Cooling towers lessen the impact because the intake need
is not nearly as great. Certain facilities also will have
to make improvements so that the number of tiny organisms
passing through their screens is reduced by 60 to 90 percent,
the agency said.
U.S. EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt said in February
that such improvements could enhance the nation's recreational
and commercial fishing industries by some $80 million
a year, by annually protecting more than 200 million pounds
of fish. The requirements were embraced last night by
Mr. Reynolds and Sandy Bihn, of the Maumee Bay Association,
a citizens group that knows the value of western Lake
Erie's coveted fishing industry.
Western Lake Erie has long been viewed by scientists
as the most productive part of the Great Lakes because
it is the warmest and shallowest area. The lake, as a
whole, produces more fish than the other four Great Lakes
combined. "Unfortunately, we have one of the worst situations
on the Great Lakes right here. We know this is one of
the main spawning grounds for fish. There has been a real
severe impact on the fish population," said Mr. Reynolds,
a fisherman for more than 40 years and one of the few
in Ohio still holding a commercial fishing license.
The greatest losses are fish less than two inches long
that serve as a food source for coveted sports fish such
as yellow perch, walleye, and white bass, Mr. Reynolds
said. Bay Shore draws water from the mouth of the Maumee
River, in an area where much of that massive tributary's
spawning occurs. To the north lies Detroit Edison Co.'s
coal-fired power plant in Monroe, one of the nation's
largest. It draws water from the River Raisin. Spokesmen
for both utilities yesterday said their companies will
do whatever it takes to keep their plants in compliance.
FirstEnergy is in the process of hiring contractors to
do a study that is expected to take more than three years.
"We want to make sure we have the facts. It may seem long-term,
but you don't want just a snapshot," Mark Durbin, a utility
spokesman, said. Detroit Edison has just started to assess
the situation at Monroe and its other plants, given what
was just published in the Federal Register. "It's a little
early in the process. We don't know which strategies will
be applied at which plants," John Austerberry, a Detroit
Edison spokesman, said.
Another rule, which the U.S. EPA plans to announce in
November, is to apply to power stations and manufacturers
that draw in less than 50 million gallons of water a day.
Many of the nation's 103 nuclear plants, including FirstEnergy's
Davis-Besse and Detroit Edison's Fermi II, will be subject
to the upcoming rule. They are not subject to the latest
one because their cooling towers allow them to draw in
fewer than 50 million gallons a day, officials have said.
Contact Tom Henry at: email@example.com or 419-724-6079.