Skip to main content
skip to content Français Search
Start of main content

It’s go time: EPA’s cooling water rule is here

This new environmental regulation for industrial plants goes into effect this week.

After years of delays, appeals, and protests, the EPA’s “cooling water intake rule,” also known as section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act, officially went into effect this week (finally). For those who aren’t familiar, the rule requires industrial plants – typically power and manufacturing facilities – that take in over 2 million gallons of water a day for cooling purposes to prove that their plants meet standards for protecting aquatic wildlife from what the rule calls “impingement and entrainment” (in other words, trapping them against a screen or sucking them in).

Plant owners have, for the most part, held off on spending money to meet those standards while waiting to see how the final rule took shape. But now that it’s official, it’s time to get going. Some companies made their plans early, employing some of the suggestions I and other consultants have made in the last year or two. But for those who haven’t, where do you start?

The real driver for formulating a strategy comes down to permitting schedules. Plants need a NPDES permit to operate, and they won’t be able to get or renew that permit without complying with 316(b). So the process starts with backtracking from your permitting deadline and making a plan for compliance within that timeframe. If a plant’s permit is set to expire within 45 months of the rule’s October 14 effective date, owners can ask the EPA for an extension so that they have enough time to incorporate required studies to collect data on impingement and entrainment at the plant.

But whether that time is coming soon or is years away, a 316(b) strategy needs to be more than a series of checkboxes. It’s a complex process that a consultant certainly can (and should) help with, but a few key tips can help lay the foundation for getting that strategy off the ground:

  1. Identify your goal for each plant. Do you plan to close this plant in 5 years? Do you intend to run it for another 20? That goal will inform the level of investment you may want to make.
  2. Get the right people involved. On the corporate side, you’ll want legal and finance folks, but also facilities staff. They know the ins and outs of how the plant works and can make sure the strategy you’re considering is realistic.
  3. Engage the agencies in studies. Instead of developing costly engineering upgrades, work with the agencies to start performing impingement and entrainment studies right away. They might be expensive, but they buy you time to figure out where you really stand and what you need to do. Studies are ultimately required for rule compliance anyway, so this gets you ahead of the game and establishes some good faith with the agencies.
  4. Budget. If you establish the changes you want to make and the budget you have to make them ahead of time, in most cases, the agencies will work with you to find ways to make it work.

Ultimately, the best strategy is one that meets the requirements while saving money. That IS possible – it just takes an organized approach and the help of experts.

Nathan Henderson is a principal, senior fisheries biologist, and 316(b) expert. 

A 316(b) strategy needs to be more than a series of checkboxes

Seal systems like this one help slow the intake water to reduce impingement and entrainment.

comments powered by Disqus

View A Project Near You

Find Stantec projects near you
End of main content To top