New DEC Plan to Protect Aquatic Life

The NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced an a new plan to reduce the number of fish, fish eggs and larvae regularly destroyed when large quantities of water are withdrawn from rivers to cool steam electric plants.

New York ranks an estimated third in the nation in the use of "once through" cooling technology. This cooling method annually kills over 17 billion fish in all life stages when they are impinged or entrained by screens designed to prevent debris from entering power plants, according to the DEC's Aquatic Habitat Protection figures.

To remedy this problem, the DEC plans to require plants to use closed-cycle cooling technology, in which water can be recycled and reused, slashing the impacts on aquatic life by over 90 percent.

According to DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis, "By requiring modern recycling technology, New York's marine resources will be afforded greater protection, including many marine fish species that are vital to the state's commercial and recreational fishing industries but are being harmed by water intakes."

The regulatory basis for the DEC's plan is that closed cycle cooling fulfills the "best technology available" (BTA) requirements under the federal Clean Water Act, which requires power plants to employ the best technology available to minimize environmental impacts.

The proposed policy, open to public comment through May 9, 2010, would apply to facilities that withdraw 20 million or more gallons of water per day unless an operator can demonstrate that closed cycle cooling cannot physically be implemented at its plant. In such a case, the DEC would require the use of alternate technologies that protect aquatic life to the same degree as closed cycle cooling.

The public is invited to comment on this draft policy through May 9, 2010, by sending comments to: NYSDEC Bureau of Habitat, BTA Policy Comments, 625 Broadway 5th Floor, Albany, NY 12233-4756; or by email to After careful review and consideration of comments received, a final policy will be issued.

Excerpted from an article by NY League of Conservation Voters