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Great Lakes Article:

New federal power plant edict seeks to save fish
By Tom Henry
Toledo Blade
02/23/04


Western Lake Erie could reap benefits from a U.S. EPA edict to protect more fish from massive power plant water intakes.

Although some experts said they are puzzled by how the agency plans to achieve its goal, they welcome anything that could result in even a marginal improvement for Erieís western end - by far the warmest and most productive part of the Great Lakes for fish reproduction. Lake Erie alone produces more fish than the other four Great Lakes combined.

But the lakeís western end also is home of two coal-fired power plants that are among the most notorious for killing or injuring Great Lakes fish: FirstEnergy Corp.ís Bay Shore plant in Oregon and Detroit Edison Co.ís massive plant in Monroe, according to Dr. Jeff Reutter, director of Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State Universityís Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island.

Dr. Reutter, who also heads the Center for Lake Erie Area Research and the Great Lakes Aquatic Ecosystem Research Consortium, said he canít think of any two power plants on the Great Lakes where more fish have been imperiled by water intakes.

Millions of fish, larvae, and eggs have been impacted at those two sites over the years.

Bay Shore draws water from the mouth of the Maumee River, one of the shallowest parts of the Great Lakes and near much of that massive tributaryís spawning. The Maumee is Lake Erieís largest tributary and one of the largest in the region.

The Monroe facility draws from the River Raisin. That power station is one of the nationís largest.

The two facilities are among 550 nationwide that will be affected by the new rule, announced last Monday. U.S. EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt claimed it could provide benefits to the nation of about $80 million a year in terms of enhancing recreational and commercial fishing.

Billed as the first major effort to address the problem in the 32-year history of the Clean Water Act, the rule will require power plants withdrawing more than 50 million gallons of water a day to meet performance standards aimed at reducing the number of fish pinned against intake screens by 80 to 95 percent.

Certain facilities also will have to achieve a 60 to 90 percent reduction in the number of tiny organisms small enough to slip through the screens. The variance depends upon factors such as location, the amount of water withdrawn, and energy generation, the U.S. EPA said.

Facilities will be given several options to achieve goals, the agency said.

The rule is the second of three the U.S. EPA committed itself to achieve as part of a consent decree in 1995 that stemmed from a lawsuit filed by numerous environmental groups.

The third rule, which is to be announced in November, will apply to electric generating plants using smaller amounts of cooling water and for other manufacturers, the agency said.

The U.S. EPA said the latest regulation alone will protect more than 200 million pounds of fish and other aquatic organisms from being drawn into heavy currents and either banged up against intake screens or drawn through a plantís cooling system. Some fish survive when drawn through a plant, but the vast majority die. Many of those pinned against intake screens die from fatigue or related ailments, officials said.

Ellen Raines, FirstEnergy spokesman, said the utility plans to spend 31/2 years on a study to assess how many fish are affected at Bay Shore and what improvements could be made to meet the U.S. EPA regulation.

John Austerberry, Detroit Edison spokesman, said he anticipates some type of physical enhancement will be made to the Monroe facilityís intake. He said he did not believe the problem is worse at Monroe than at other coal plants, although the Monroe facility once had to shut down in the mid-1980s because of partial blockage by shad.

The issue has long been a concern to Frank Reynolds, a commercial fisherman from Oregon who said heís focused much of his attention on the problem at Bay Shore for years.

"Itís not only killing fish, but the whole ecosystem. Every different type of aquatic life is being destroyed," Mr. Reynolds, who has fished Lake Erie for 30 years, said.

The latest rule does not apply to FirstEnergyís Davis-Besse and Detroit Edisonís Fermi II nuclear plants. Neither draws in more than 50 million gallons of water a day, because both re-circulate water within their plants and replace it only as it evaporates.

Both likely will be affected by the rule due out in November. Davis-Besse draws in fewer than 29 million gallons a day. The amount of Fermi IIís draw was not immediately known, but Mr. Austerberry said it is well below 50 million gallons.

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