SELC, partners secure better protections for Coosa River

Groups successfully challenge Plant Hammond permit

Early morning fog rises off the Coosa River. (© Beth Young)

An administrative law judge has invalidated a Clean Water Act permit that up until this point, failed to require Georgia Power to take any efforts to begin to reduce harms inflicted on fish and aquatic life by Plant Hammond’s cooling water intake structure. The system can draw in more than 600 million gallons of water per day from the Coosa River when in operation. In doing so, the forceful withdrawals can trap tens of thousands of fish against the intake screen or draw in countless smaller organisms through the plant operations themselves, killing them.

In light of a successful challenge by SELC on behalf of our partner, Coosa River Basin Initiative, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division must now revisit the permit and impose interim measures requiring that Georgia Power minimize these harms before the next permit is issued in five years. Before the challenge, the arrangement would have allowed Georgia Power to continue operating as-is before requiring any improvements to the intake.

The judge has now made clear that the Environmental Protection Divisions’ rationale for doing nothing to minimize these harms at Plant Hammond is wrong. This decision is a win for one of Georgia’s great rivers, as EPD must now require an actual solution to reduce the harms inflicted on the Coosa River’s fish population, rather than kick the can further down the road.”

—Senior Attorney Chris Bowers

Under the Clean Water Act, Georgia Power is supposed to minimize this kind of harm using the “best technology available,” but Georgia EPD issued a permit that gave the plant until 2022 to come up with a method to minimize the damage — and required no interim measures to reduce fish deaths until then.

Administrative Law Judge Stephanie Howells ruled in our favor and ordered state officials to issue a permit requiring interim measures.

To prevent the needless destruction of aquatic life in one of North America’s most biologically diverse river basins, we have long advocated for Georgia Power to modernize its operations at Plant Hammond, and bring the 1950s-era plant into the 21st century. ”

—Jesse Demonbruen-Chapman, Executive Director of Coosa River Basin Initiative.

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