outfall permit for San Onofre delayed

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Posted by on March 12, 2005 at 02:03:15:

SAN CLEMENTE ---- Questions from local environmental groups have stalled approval of a water discharge permit for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

At a public hearing held in San Diego on Wednesday, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Board extended the public comment period for the permit by two weeks after a coalition of environmental groups complained that the board's permit for the nuclear plant was too vague.

San Onofre sucks nearly 2.5 billion gallons of salt water from the Pacific Ocean every day. The water is used to cool the plant's twin nuclear reactors which owner Southern California Edison says together generate enough electricity to power 2.2 million homes.

The water comes into the plant at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit and is returned to the ocean at about 80 degrees, according to Edison.

Bruce Reznik, executive director for San Diego Bay Keeper, an environmental organization concerned with keeping coastal waters clean, said Thursday that the San Onofre permit did not contain enough specific information to allow an average person to make informed comments on renewing the permit.

"It's incumbent upon them to compile the information and make it available to the public in an accessible manner," Reznik said.

Ed Kimura, a retired engineer and volunteer with the Sierra Club, said the permit posted on the board's Web site does not included detailed information on the amount of fish killed by the plant or about the specific effect that releasing so much warm salt water has on marine life.

"They don't even tell the public what damage has been done," Kimura said.

John Robertus, the water quality board's executive director, said Thursday that the documents and reports environmental groups want are all available at the organization's main office in San Diego. He acknowledged that many of the supporting documents, like fish-kill monitoring reports, are not available on the Internet because the board simply does not have enough resources to translate reams of paper documents into electronic files.

He added that the board sees the renewal of San Onofre's water discharge permit as "relatively routine" because nothing has significantly changed since the last permit was issued in 1999.

"I see no trigger points that have changed," he said, noting that in 1999 the plant's outfall temperature changed, requiring more significant study.

David Kay, an environmental scientist who works for Edison, said Thursday that the environmental groups should have done their homework before coming to Wednesday's meeting and asking for more time.

"The problem is they really didn't take enough time to look through the record and get educated," Kay said.

He added that much of the data the groups seek is contained in Edison's application for a permit renewal.

"That was filed about nine months ago," Kay said.

Reznik of San Diego Baykeeper said that the one-month comment period is too short for the public to sort through the pertinent information and come to an informed decision.

"We feel it's really kind of a rush to judgement on the part of the water quality board," Reznik said. "You're talking about something that is a high impact to the coastal environment in that region. We couldn't even engage the experts we usually use to determine if this permit is sufficient."

Along with 2.5 billion gallons of cooling water, fish, kelp and even seals are sucked into San Onofre's twin 3,200-foot intake pipes. Edison installed a special fish removal device that it estimates returns about 75 percent of the fish alive to the ocean. However, the plant still kills about 200 pounds of fish each day.

San Onofre's cooling system kills more than 50 tons of fish annually, according to a 15-year study by the California Coastal Commission's Marine Review Committee.

To compensate for the power plant's negative effects on the marine environment, the state Coastal Commission ordered Edison to pay for several environmental projects, the largest of which is a $90 million restoration project that will restore 115 acres of tidal wetlands at the mouth of the San Dieguito River in Del Mar. After years of planning, the project is expected to begin in the summer of 2005.

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