DEC: Billions of Fish Killed
By Roger Witherspoon
July 11, 2003
The Journal News
Power plants destroy smaller species, plant life, state finds in river study
The use of Hudson River water to cool generators at three major power plants is
degrading the river's ecosystem by killing billions of fish and plants each year and
pouring tremendous amounts of hot water into the tidal estuary, according to a new
state environmental analysis.
The analysis, prepared by the state Department of Environmental Conservation,
found that existing systems used to keep aquatic life out of the plants' huge cooling
systems are effective at removing large fish and debris, but "do very little" to stop
smaller fish and plant life from being sucked into the plants and baked to death
during the power generation process.
For five species of fish - American shad, bay anchovy, river herring, striped bass and
white perch - data provided to the state by the three plants found that more than 2
billion were sucked into the cooling systems and at least 1.45 billion died in the
heated water. The state concluded that nearly all the fish that survived the actual
cooling process died shortly after being pumped back into the river.
While the power plants' greatest harm is to the small aquatic life sucked inside the
systems, the state concluded that hot water discarded by the three plants had a
greater impact than previously believed - affecting the entire river at the discharge
site rather than a narrow column of water - and may lead to the wholesale
disappearance of some species.
"Rainbow smelt may be disappearing from some reaches of the Hudson because of
thermal discharges from electric generating stations," the report said. "Such a trend,
if continued, could impact other species."
Officials from the plants disputed the state's conclusions and said their operations
were not harming the river to the degree found in the report.
The analysis is a critical part of the controversial discharge-permit proceedings under
way for the nuclear power plants at Indian Point in Buchanan, the Bowline Point
Steam Electric Generating Station in West Haverstraw and the Roseton Generating
Station in Newburgh. All three sites are required to have state permits in order to
discharge their heated water into the river, but the process has been the subject of a
decade of litigation. The plants could be forced to cease using the river as their
primary cooling source and switch to alternative cooling methods, which energy
officials say would be economically prohibitive.
The plants' effect on the river is due to the enormous volumes of water they use.
Indian Point, Roseton and Bowline are the first-, sixth- and seventh-largest users of
water in the state, respectively, taking in 1.69 trillion gallons annually. That is twice
the volume of water in the entire 153-mile estuary from the Battery in Manhattan to
Troy, and 3.5 times the amount of water used annually by 9 million residents in New
York City, Westchester and Putnam counties. The plants return a total of 220 trillion
BTUs of waste heat to the river, an amount equal to the heat generated by the daily
detonation of a 15-kiloton nuclear bomb - the type that leveled Hiroshima -
approximately every two hours.
"This is an outrage. It's like having a giant Cuisinart for the river," said David
Gordon of the environmental group Riverkeeper. "This is the last major industrial
impact on the river which has gone unabated since the imposition of the Clean Water
Act. They're just killing everything in it."
The plants' discharge permits expired in 1987, but the state DEC has allowed them to
continue operating while it studies the effect of their cooling operations on the river's
environment. In June 2002, in response to a lawsuit filed by Assemblyman Richard
Brodsky, D-Greenburgh, and the environmental groups Riverkeeper and Scenic
Hudson, state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Keegan ordered the DEC to complete
the evaluation process and issue a decision on the permit applications by Nov. 14.
"The study proves Indian Point is a mass murderer of the Hudson River," Brodsky
said. "It is disgraceful that we had to go to court to force this to closure. It affects the
economy of the Hudson Valley. It affects the ability of people to enjoy the river and
it is another way that Indian Point is an economic millstone around the neck of the
A spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns Indian Point, said the
Hudson River ecosystem was healthy despite the huge losses.
"We have been studying the river for 25 years and spent 50 million dollars studying
fish populations in the river," spokesman Jim Steets said, "and we have seen no
impact from our operation on the Hudson River fish populations. The Hudson River
is one of the richest bodies of water in the North Atlantic. It's teeming with fish. So
the impact, based on our studies, is negligible."
Louis Friscoe, a Bowline spokesman, said the plant has been developing more
effective screening systems to keep small aquatic life out of the cooling pool and its
current operations have had little negative effect on the river. "The fish populations
have come back," Friscoe said. "The striped bass populations have increased and you
even have sport fishing that you haven't had in the last 15 to 20 years."
The three plants use a system called "once through" cooling in which water is
drained directly from the river, pumped through heat exchangers to cool the
superheated steam used to turn giant electric generating turbines, then pumped back
into the river at temperatures up to 35 degrees higher than the river's temperature.
The state report rejected the contention by the three plants that the death of billions
of baby plant and animal organisms caused by the nuclear plants was no different
from normal factors that prevent a majority of eggs and seeds from reaching
"The plants are taking tons of living material from the food chain," said Warren
Reiss of Scenic Hudson, "and returning tons of decaying material to the ecosystem.
What should have grown up to be an adult or become food for a number of
organisms so they could grow up is no longer in the food pyramid."
Reach Roger Witherspoon at email@example.com or 914-696-8566.