EPA Rule Applied to Hydroelectric Facilities

By Chris Tomichek, Senior Fisheries Biologist

Recent Actions to Include the EPA 316(b) Rule to Hydroelectric Facilities

Recently, EPA’s Region 10 released a draft NPDES General Permit (GP) for discharges from hydroelectric facilities located in Idaho for public comment. 

The draft NPDES GP includes the former requirements for reporting pollutants but also includes requirements related to compliance with 316(b), which means licensees will be required to explain what technologies they are currently using or plan to use at their facility to reduce impingement and entrainment of aquatic organisms in their cooling water.   

The Region 10 draft NPDES GP proposes to require facilities that use less than 2 MGD of cooling water to submit flow and cooling water intake structure related information; monitor and report any entrained or impinged fish; and prepare and submit information consistent with NPDES permit application requirements for cooling water intake structures in 40 CFR 122.21(r)(2)-(8).

These reports include:

  • Source Water Physical Data Report
  • Cooling Water Intake Structure Data Repot,
  • Source Water Baseline Biological Characterization Data Report
  • Cooling Water System Data Report
  • Chosen Method for Impingement Compliance Report
  • Performance Studies (biological survival)
  • Operational Status

EPA Region 1 (New England) is also preparing to release a public notice in the next month for comments on their draft NPDES GP for hydroelectric facilities.

The EPA Region 1 draft NPDES GP cites the EPA 316(b) Rule and will be requiring information similar to those proposed for Region 10.

The EPA in both regions is requiring the submittal of this information at the time of permit renewal.

EPA 316(b) Rule 

The term ‘316(b)’ refers to the section in the Clean Water Act (CWA) requiring that the location, design, construction, and capacity of cooling water intake structures (CWIS) reflect the best technology available (BTA) for minimizing adverse environmental impact. Since 1972, the 316(b) Section of the

CWA was applied to steam electric facilities, such as coal, gas, and nuclear, and manufacturing facilities and enforced through NPDES permits.  Historically hydroelectric facilities did not have to comply with the 316(b) Rule although they did have to get an NPDES permit for discharging pollutants such as noncontact cooling and direct cooling water, equipment and floor drain water, equipment backwash water, and specific maintenance waters.

These include water used for backwash strainers turbine bearings, guide bearings, air compressor, generators and power transformers.  At pump storage facilities, this may also include cooling water for air handlers, air conditioning, and rheostats.  The pollutants generally associated with these discharges include oil, grease, temperature (excess heat), and pH.  Under current NPDES GPs for hydros, facilities are required to provide monthly or quarterly data on flow, pH range, oil and grease, and water temperature. These need to be measured for equipment-related cooling water, floor drains, maintenance related-water, backwash strainer water, and facility maintenance-related water during floods and high water. These data are submitted via monthly Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs).

Industry Reaction

Although currently only the Region 10 draft NPDES GP is out for comment in Idaho with EPA Region 1 to follow soon, National Hydro Association (NHA) members from around the country are concerned about these new compliance requirements spreading to all regions of the country. 

The NHA has partnered with the Utility Water Act Group (UWAG)1 to submit comments to Region 10 EPA on behalf of the utility industry.

UWAG’s purpose is to participate on behalf of its members in EPA’s rulemakings under the CWA.

NHA and UWAG are working with their members to ensure concerns are included in the response they file for the Idaho draft NPDES GP.

1UWAG is a voluntary, ad hoc, non-profit, unincorporated group of 163 energy companies and EEI, National Rural Electric Coop and American Public Power Association.