How the EPA's clean water regulations will impact manufacturers
For more than 10 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working to update the regulations for water intake at industrial and power facilities, including manufacturing plants, as part of the Clean Water Act. Manufacturers are now gearing up to comply with the new terms.
Known as Section 316(b) of the act, the water intake rule regulates the water a plant pulls in for cooling purposes. The rule has been revised and delayed several times in the last few years, and it was finally signed May 19, 2014. Although it’s now in the required 60-day comment period, the majority of the proposed changes are expected to move forward, meaning that manufacturers should be preparing themselves now on how to comply with the new terms.
What exactly is 316(b)?
Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act requires facilities that use more than 2 million gallons of water a day from sources such as lakes and rivers for cooling processes to ensure that their system minimizes its impact on the environment.
For example, the regulations address trapping fish and other aquatic wildlife against the intake screens or drawing them into the facility, referred to as “impingement” and “entrainment” in the rule. The rule was expected to be implemented in three phases: New facilities starting in 2001, existing large electric-generating facilities in 2004, and existing small electric and manufacturing facilities in 2006.
However, in 2007, Riverkeeper, a New York-based water protection organization, challenged the rule, proposing closed-cycle cooling be the mandate for all cooling water intake systems. Since then the rule has been suspended and reintroduced several times, leading to this spring’s final review and ultimate passing in May.
How has the rule impacted the manufacturing industry?
Since the 316(b) cooling water intake rule was first introduced, manufacturing plants have largely been exempt. The rule was primarily targeted at large power plants that take in millions of gallons of water a day, and even then, only plants using 25% or more of their water intake for cooling purposes had to comply.
As such, many manufacturing plants either didn’t intake the quantities in question or could calculate detailed water budgets that proved only a small percentage of their water was actually used for cooling (the rest going toward the manufacturing process). But with the increased scrutiny of the rule, the EPA has identified more than 500 manufacturing plants that must meet the new requirements of the rule.
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