Cooling the Coosa
Massive Water Withdrawal and Warm Water Discharge from Power Plant Harms Coosa Fish
CRBI's Campaign to Stop Fish Deaths at Plant Hammond on the Coosa River
Take Action: E-mail EPD
What’s The Problem with Power Plants?
The single largest user of water in the upper Coosa River basin is Plant Hammond, a coal-fired power generating facility located in Floyd County just west of Rome (pictured to the left). At peak operating capacity the plant uses more than 530 million gallons a day (as much as all of metro Atlanta uses daily) from the Coosa as cooling water. Once used at the plant, the water is discharged back to the Coosa at an elevated temperature.
This massive water withdrawal from the river and subsequent warm water discharge has taken place at Plant Hammond for more than 50 years and has had far-reaching impacts on the health of the Coosa. Thousands of fish, fish larvae and fish eggs perish annually when they are sucked into the plant’s intake pipes. Countless other fish and aquatic wildlife are impacted by the thermal discharge. Scroll down to see a google map of Plant Hammond.
Fixing the Problem
The good news is federal and state environmental agencies are taking steps to correct the problem.
In May 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted new protections that require power plants like Hammond to reduce the amount of water they pump from our rivers. Additionally, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) which regulates pollution coming from Plant Hammond and will review Hammond’s pollution permits in 2015, now says that new cooling technology must be installed at the plant to restore the health of the Coosa.
Fish Impingment: Thousands of Fish Perish at Water Intake
A study conducted by Georgia Power during 2004-2005 showed that as many as 30,000-60,000 fish (like the Mobile logperch pictured at left) are sucked into Plant Hammond’s water intake annually. A large number of these fish ultimately die. The number of fish that perish at Plant Hammond annually through impingement likely exceeds the largest single fish kill in Georgia history—a loss of 38,000 fish on the Ogeechee River in 2011. And, these losses on the Coosa have occurred every year for more than 50 years.
The species of fish killed at the intake pipes include the river's top sport fish--striped bass--and that fish's most important food source--shad. Lake sturgeon, the focus of a intensive restoration program by Georgia's Department of Natural Resources, are also lost as a result of the massive water withdrawal. Read the full Report on Georgia Power’s Fish Impingement Study.
Fish Entrainment: Millions of Fish Eggs Sucked into Plant Hammond's Pipes
In addition to adult fish being sucked into Plant Hammond’s intake pipes and being impinged against intake screens, fish eggs and larval fish can also be taken into the pipes and slip through these screens. Once through the screens and into Plant Hammond’s cooling water system, these eggs and larval fish are subjected to the high temperatures of the plant. It is likely that most of these fish perish.
Though no studies have been conducted to determine how many fish eggs and larvae die as the result of entrainment, studies on the striped bass (pictured above) spawn on the Coosa River system show that during the peak of the spawning season in late April and early May as many as 24 million eggs or larvae may get sucked into the plant. Review a Powerpoint presentation detailing the striped bass spawn on the Coosa.
Thermal Pollution: Discharge from Plant Hammond reduces oxygen, threatens fish
Water discharged to the Coosa at Plant Hammond increases the temperature of the river and reduces oxygen levels that are important to the survival of fish and other aquatic species. Thermal pollution has also been shown to impact reproductive success in fish, disrupt the stability of the aquatic food chain and cause a decline in biodiversity.
The problem was identified as early as 1990 after a fish kill on the Coosa attributed to the plant's discharge. In a 2004 pollution control plan for the Coosa, EPD required Georgia Power to install a cooling tower at the facility. However, objections from Georgia Power over the validity of monitoring data prompted EPD to conduct additional studies. Ten years later, we are still waiting for the conclusion of these studies and associated river modeling.
What's the Fix?
Good news! This pollution problem can be eliminated. The once-through cooling system at Plant Hammond is obsolete. It is one of only two remaining Georgia Power facilities in the state that still uses this outdated technology.
Other power plants, like Plant Bowen on the Etowah River in Euharlee (pictured at left), utilize cooling towers that recycle water, dramatically reducing the water that must be pumped from the river.
Georgia Power estimates that construction of a cooling tower at Plant Hammond would reduce the daily withdrawal to about 30 MGD, from about 530 MGD. A cooling tower would also significantly reduce the thermal pollution at the plant’s discharge pipe.
In response to concerns about the health of the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, in 2000 Georgia Power began making similar changes to its Plant McDonough. That conversion helped improve the health of the Chattahoochee by eliminating a daily 344 million gallon withdrawal and discharge. Today, the plant withdraws about 20 MGD. Read an article about this success story in Chattahoochee Riverkeeper's newsletter.
What’s the Cost?
Georgia Power estimates that construction of a cooling tower at Plant Hammond would cost about $165 million. With 2.4 million customers statewide, such an investment would cost each customer about $69. Spread out over a 25-year period that amounts to about 25 cents per customer per billing cycle—a small price to pay for the restoration of a river that’s had its fish populations decimated by Plant Hammond for more than 50 years.
Google Map of Plant Hammond Facility