Environmental groups took aim Wednesday at Plant Vogtle’s demand for cooling water and reiterated displeasure over Georgia’s response to a 2011 fish kill on the Ogeechee River.
The issues were among the Georgia Water Coalition’s annual “Dirty Dozen” list highlighting what its 175-member organizations believe are the worst offenses to Georgia’s water.
The Ogeechee River fish kill, which claimed 38,000 fish, has pitted environmental groups against Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division over claims that the state agency has been too lax in its handling of a consent order with King America Finishing, a Screven County industry found to be discharging wastewater into the river in violation of its permit.
“This list not only highlights some of the most egregious water pollution problems in our state, but also calls attention to state policies that harm our rivers and waste our tax dollars,” said April Ingle, the executive director at Georgia River Network. “The sites on this list are examples of Georgia’s failures to protect our water, our fish and wildlife, and our communities.”
Also on the list is Plant Vogtle, where the addition of two nuclear reactors will increase Southern Co.’s use of cooling water from the Savannah River.
The issue of water use was evaluated in 2008, when the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board agreed with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s assertion that the impact of water use needed more study.
Vogtle’s two existing reactors withdraw an average of 69 million gallons a day of river water, of which about 43 million gallons a day is dispersed as steam, meaning that only about one-third of the withdrawal is returned to the river.
The new reactors, scheduled to begin operation in 2016 and 2017, would require from 53.6 million gallons daily during normal use up to as much as 83.2 million gallons a day at maximum use, with 50 to 75 percent of that volume potentially dispersed as steam.
Southern Nuclear countered that the new reactors would increase water use from 1 percent of the river’s average annual flow to about 2 percent and would not create a significant impact.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ultimately agreed, affirming the site’s final permit earlier this year.
Sara Barczak, the high-risk energy choices program director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the concerns over Vogtle’s water use include failure to evaluate water needs during droughts, which have become more frequent, and the impact of additional withdrawals on other users.
“The Savannah is a very stressed river already,” she said.
The coalition’s list highlighted other issues across the state, including the depletion of the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund, opposition to a proposed $95 million reservoir in Hall County and the $300 million Governor’s Water Supply Program, for which money spent so far has been allocated to “reservoir projects of dubious need and to businesses and individuals that were supporters of Gov. Nathan Deal’s gubernatorial campaign.”