Atlanta, Ga. (June 4, 2012) – The Oconee River is running so low, that if the new coal-fired power plant proposed in Washington County, Plant Washington, were up and running it would not be permitted to tap the river for its cooling water. Recent analysis by local water groups concludes that nearly every day in May the plant owner, Power4Georigans, would have had to rely on its “Plan B” – tapping limited precious groundwater because, according to Georgia Environmental Protection Division rules, the river would have been too low to meet the plant’s water needs.
“The company said it would rarely, rarely have to go to Plan B,” said John Swint, a concerned Washington County resident. “The fact that it’s barely June and there’s not enough water in the river to accommodate the plant before it’s even built confirms that we simply do not have enough water to quench the demands of a new 13-16 million gallon a day guzzling plant.”
Swint, along with other county residents, local riverkeepers, farmers, and environmental organizations say the power plant’s water consumption will threaten residents’ and farmers’ water supply, especially as droughts become more commonplace in the Southeast.
“There is no way this watershed can withstand the burden of Plant Washington given that the National Weather Service just classified our area as ‘exceptional drought condition,’” said Katherine Helms Cummings, executive director with the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment. “There are less water intensive ways to produce power, but not food. We can’t put coal over people and our food supply.”
Dianna Wedincamp, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, said that Power4Georgians, Washington County and the local energy provider Washington EMC are blindly pushing forward with the plant. “The Ogeechee, which is fed by the same groundwater that Plant Washington will be tapping, is dropping before our very eyes. The river is three times lower now than this time last year and local fisherman and farmers I’ve spoken with are extremely concerned about water issues.”
Connie Hayes of Healthy Hollow Organic Farms in Brooklet, Georgia stated, “The water table is already 30 feet lower at our farm at Stilson because of drawdown from Savannah and the paper plants. The Ogeechee, which used to flood each year in January and February, has not flooded for the past 11 years. Over the past decade, the river has averaged 4 feet below the normal high river mark on our farm at Stilson, and remained at unseasonable lows every summer. The trees are dying all over from drought conditions. It would be incredibly foolish to build a power plant that would use so much water given the stress our farmers are already feeling.”
Amelia Shenstone with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said the EMCs have not done their homework to understand the water supply risk, not just to the community, but also to the power supply from the plant. “If water gets scarce enough or hot enough, this plant won’t even be able to run,” said Shenstone. “That’s a big financial risk to its operator and any of the EMCs that commit to buy power from it.”
Deborah Sheppard, executive director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper, said the plant’s massive water withdraw could also affect the Altamaha River downstream. “It’s hard to believe that EPD has actually issued a permit for proposed Plant Washington to withdraw so much water when we so clearly have a serious problem with water flow in this river.”
Washington County is not alone in facing an energy and water squeeze. Some of the world’s leading science academies issued a joint statement last month stating that looming shortages in water and energy supplies should be treated as a single issue. Most of the country’s energy comes from fossil fuel, nuclear and hydropower generation, which all rely heavily on adequate water supplies for cooling, running steam turbines or direct power generation.
The widespread potential for collisions between power plants and water resources in the Southeast was highlighted in a recent report organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
“There are places in which so much water is being removed from rivers and lakes for drinking water, agriculture, and current power plants that if you add in more power plant water demand, something will have to give,” said John Rogers, a UCS senior energy analyst and a co-author of the report. “Developers, regulators, and investors really need to closely look at how new plants would affect water sources before backing those plants.
“Even though people think of the eastern U.S. as having plenty of water, current problems and trends in water demand and supply show that energy-water stresses will only increase in lots of places,” he added. “Research shows that climate change has and will likely continue to increase the frequency of drought in certain parts of the country, including in the Southeast, making low- or no-water options like wind, solar photovoltaics, and energy efficiency even more valuable.” # # # ##