You probably have heard about the many threats your favorite beaches face. Polluted runoff, overfishing, and plastic trash are all damaging our ocean. But in California, there's another threat that you probably have not heard of. Throughout the state, 19 coastal power plants use outdated once-through cooling technology, where fresh ocean water is sucked into the plant, cycled through to cool the systems, and flushed out. Each day, these plants draw in nearly 15 billion gallons of sea water. Unfortunately, it's not just water. The intake pipes suck in and kill fish, invertebrates, eggs and larvae, and also trap and kill sea lions, harbor seals, and sea turtles. The power plants release heated water back into the ocean, potentially damaging ecosystems by raising the water temperature to harmful levels. We need to look at other ways to cool power plants, like using recycled water or dry cooling technology.
In 2010, Heal the Bay helped influence the adoption of a state policy to minimize the marine life impacts of once-through cooling, by requiring upgraded technology in California's coastal power plants. Currently we are working to see that the state policy is implemented at individual power plants in southern California.
Southern California's exploding population is going to need more and more fresh water, for drinking and home use, and irrigation as well. Currently there are 19 proposed desalination plants along the coast. Desalination, or the process of sucking in sea water and removing the salt to convert it to fresh water, might seem like a decent way to get more fresh water, but we need to perfect our water conservation and recycling efforts first. One of the problems with desalination is that the plants produce a super concentrated salty brine, which is simply discharged right back into the ocean. This discharge might create spots in the Santa Monica Bay that are so salty marine life can't survive. But some of the proposed desalination plants are an even bigger problem. They would be built at the same location as an outdated power plant, and use the same water that the power plant sucks in. Reusing things is great, but in this case the desalination plant might exempt the power plant from updating their technology. So the desalination would be the excuse that the power plant uses to keep sucking in millions of gallons of sea water each day. That's just not a good idea.
Heal the Bay’s position on desalination: We are following the issue through proposed local desalination facilities and the State Water Resources Control Board's desalination policy development process. As an organization, Heal the Bay is not against desalination. We believe that water conservation and reuse should be maximized before energy intensive desalination is pursued. If desalination plants are approved, Heal the Bay believes that they must use the best technology available to minimize marine life mortality and keep water quality clean.
Help protect your favorite beaches, and some of your favorite animals, by calling on California to end the use of destructive open ocean intakes for power plants and desalination. Heal the Bay is calling for protective and modernized solutions in local power plants to implement the state's once-through cooling policy.