Coastal Power Plants

undefinedPower Plants Using Once Through Cooling

California's coastal and bay-side power plants use an antiquated cooling technology that pulls in over 16 billion gallons of cold seawater per day.  The State Water Board estimates that this “once-through cooling” (OTC) technology needlessly kills an estimated 79 billion fish and other marine species each year in California, including endangered Chinook Salmon and Delta Smelt.

The Clean Water Act requires that these power plants obtain permits to operate their OTC systems, known as National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. By law, these permits are to be reissued every five years. Despite this requirement, almost all of the power plants in California using OTC are currently operating with expired permits. The Regional Water Boards responsible for issuing these permits have been waiting for the State Water Board to establish the recently adopted statewide policy addressing OTC before they reissue permits for these plants. OTC is an outdated technology that dramatically impacts the health of our ocean, the viability of coastal economies, and the natural heritage we will leave for future generations.

CCKA Is Taking Action


In 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued regulations
requiring plants using OTC to reduce their environmental impacts, but the regulations contained illegal loopholes allowing power companies to continue killing marine life.  With CCKA as a named plaintiff, the Waterkeeper Alliance sued in  Riverkeeper v. EPA ("Riverkeeper"). In January 2007, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found the U.S. EPA's regulation illegal and agreed with CCKA that after-the-fact restoration cannot be used as a substitute for using the "best technology available" to avoid killing marine life, a decision later supported by the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2011, the U.S. EPA released its revised rules for regulating OTC in existing facilities.  These rules were in response to a November 2010 U.S. EPA Settlement Agreement with Riverkeeper regarding rulemaking dates for the U.S. EPA to set technology standards for OTC at  existing facilities under Clean Water Act Section 316(b).  CCKA has developed comments on this important rule, and a final action will be taken by July 27, 2012. 

In California, CCKA worked with a broad coalition of fishing, environmental and community groups to ensure completion of a statewide policy to phase-out OTC power plants, drafting two sets of comprehensive comments in spring and fall 2010 and coordinating stakeholder testimony.  In May 2010 the State Water Board adopted the final OTC Policy to phase out once-through cooling in favor of more modern power technology, and considered and rejected amendments to the final Policy in December 2010.  In 2011, power companies attempted to avoid compliance with the OTC Policy by requesting a forty year delay to the implementation schedule.  In response, CCKA completed a detailed analysis of the proposed delay, highlighting the vastly under-estimated impacts.  CCKA also submitted a final joint comment letter on the proposed OTC amendments, and organized broad NGO testimony for the hearing.  As a result, the State Water Board adopted amendments to the OTC Policy that were more protective than those recommended by the Board’s staff.