After some delays, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its final 316(b) rule for existing facilities that employ cooling water drawn from various domestic water supplies. The rule, which seeks to address a portion of the Clean Water Act, will require facilities to use all available technology to minimize the environmental impact of their operations.
The rule itself does not define the exact type of environmental impact that it is meant to prevent, but according to an article on Power Magazine, the EPA defines it as "mortality due to impingement," which refers to the trapping of aquatic organisms in an intake structure.
The news source added that the EPA has spent years trying to develop a rule of this kind, working through multiple legal challenges as well as the logistical problems associated with the regulation of this activity. Unlike limits on chemical contamination, which can be put in place and measured with simple tests, impingement is site specific. In order to understand how a facility is affecting aquatic organisms, one must have knowledge about the state of the water source before the facility was in place.
For that reason, the process of complying with this rule will be quite complex for facilities that draw from newly protected water resources. They may need to design new, safer cooling systems or update existing ones. Given the difficulties at hand, it would be prudent for these facilities to work with an environmental consultant that can help them make sure they are in compliance with the EPA's mandates.