DEP eyes Millstone water discharges

Waterford - Millstone Power Station should take steps over the next two years to substantially reduce the water it uses for cooling and help restore populations of winter flounder and other marine life in Niantic Bay, but for now it is allowed to continue discharging more than 2 billion gallons of water per day into Long Island Sound.

A state environmental regulator made the recommendations that were released Wednesday.

Janis Deshais, hearing officer for the state Department of Environmental Protection, included the provisions as part of her decision to recommend with specific conditions the renewal of a permit allowing Millstone to withdraw and discharge water into the bay and the Sound.

The power plant uses water taken from Niantic Bay to cool its nuclear reactors and discharges heated water into the bay.

The nuclear power plant currently operates under a 12-year-old water permit that has expired but was extended under emergency provisions.

Deshais' decision now goes to DEP Deputy Commissioner Susan Frechette for review and a final determination about granting the permit. Normally DEP Commissioner Amey Marrella would make the final decision, but before she became commissioner last year she took part in the negotiations with Millstone's owner, Dominion Nuclear Connecticut and two environmental groups, so she could not give it an impartial review, said Dennis Schain, DEP spokesman.

Schain said there is no specific timeline for when Frechette will decide on the permit.

The process used by the DEP to consider renewal of the permit is being challenged in a lawsuit pending in state Superior Court. Nancy Burton, an anti-nuclear activist from Redding Ridge and Mystic, brought the suit in 2007. Burton was unsuccessful in her attempt to get the court to halt the permit process while her suit is pending.

The two environmental groups, Soundkeeper Inc. and the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, had been pushing for the DEP to force Millstone to change its water intake and discharge practices to minimize environmental harm, including the killing of millions of fish larvae. The groups argued that this is required by the federal Clean Water Act, which the DEP is responsible for enforcing in Connecticut.

In September 2008 the two groups, Dominion and the DEP agreed to conditions to allow the power plant to continue using water under the following conditions:

• By the summer of 2012 Dominion must complete an evaluation of different types of new equipment systems that could be installed to reduce environmental impacts from water intake and discharge. The systems to be considered would include closed-cycle recirculation systems, which would essentially reuse the same water repeatedly. The DEP would decide, based on the evaluation, which technology Millstone would be required to install.

• By January 2011 Millstone must reduce its use of cooling water by 40 percent during a six-week period in early spring when the peak spawning season for winter flounder occurs. Ken Holt, spokesman for Dominion, said Wednesday that equipment to reduce water use during spawning season has already been installed on one reactor and will be installed on the second this spring.

• A study of whether fine-mesh screens could be installed on the water intake pipes to filter out winter flounder larvae must be completed. Holt said that question is already being researched, as well as a study of how winter flounder populations in the nearby Niantic River could be increased. The study would include the feasibility of transplanting flounder from other parts of Long Island Sound or Block Island Sound into the river.

• Dominion is also required to send representatives to participate in the DEP's Nitrogen Work Group, established to study the impact of excess nitrogen on the river's ecosystem.

Holt said Dominion is pleased with the recommended decision and looks forward to the issuance of a new permit. Meeting the conditions will have no impact on the plant's ability to produce power, he said.

Likewise, Roger Reynolds, senior attorney for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and Terry Backer of Soundkeeper also were pleased.

The existing permit, Reynolds said, is old and outdated based on current knowledge about environmental impacts of the use of cooling water and new technologies that can reduce its use. He is satisfied that the DEP is committed to making sure Millstone sticks to timelines spelled out for the studies and installation of new equipment, and that the environmental groups will be able to monitor to make sure that is the case. He described the DEP's re-permitting process as "remarkably slow and cumbersome."

"We're not trying to shut (Millstone) down," he said. "We're just trying to make sure they operate in a way that minimizes harm to the environment."

Backer said he considers the permit conditions a successful achievement by the two environmental groups.

"We got pretty much everything we fought for," he said.


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