While protecting Endangered species and their habitats is an important goal implicit in the new 316b rules, many utilities are understandably concerned about what standards will be applied and when this will come in the permitting process. Because actions under the rules will affect listed species and critical habitats that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service have responsibility for, these agencies may be involved in the process at points that have not been clearly defined. Further, non-governmental groups may use these issues to challenge permits.
Developing a sound plan that appropriately balances the protection of listed species with allowing reasonable operation of plants will be a site-by-site challenge. The 316b regulations already specify the specific studies and technologies required, but the evaluation of that data will be critical. The good news is that a great deal of study has already been conducted in the field and laboratories on specific plant sites and technology. One of the best tools for assessing the impacts are biodiversity studies that help evaluate the health of existing defined ecosystems to changes in conditions over a period of time.
For example, four studies of bottom-dwelling organisms in the discharge canal of a power plant were conducted over ten years. Looking at the combined effect of chemical and thermal discharge, water velocity, and sedimentology characteristics, no deterioration of biodiversity was observed throughout the period a few hundred yards from the discharge. In evaluating the effects on complex and constantly changing ecosystems and target species, these “real life” assessments tell us much more about the real impacts of cooling water intakes and discharges. Assembling a database of similar information could be of great value is implementation of 316b proceeds.
For more information on Mexel’s ability to maintain biodiversity contact us!