Plant Hammond

Plant Hammond on the Coosa River has been in operation since the 1950s. (Contributed photo)

Conservation groups are pointing to an update in federal cooling water intake regulations as a way of holding Georgia Power Co. to its proposal to build a cooling tower at Plant Hammond.

The Coosa River Basin Initiative, along with the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club and GreenLaw, a nonprofit environmental law firm, announced Thursday that they are asking the state’s Environmental Protection Division and the utility to have the structure in place as soon as possible.

Plant Hammond draws more than 530 millions of gallons of water per day from the Coosa River on average, to constantly cool its coal-fired power generating operations.

Joe Cook, CRBI advocacy and communication coordinator, said they were able to obtain a copy of a 2005 fish impingement study initiated by Georgia Power, noting that between 30,000 and 60,000 fish are impinged against the facility’s water intake screens where many perish.

The conservation groups say a cooling tower would recycle water taken from the Coosa and reduce the amount of water it pumps from the river to about 30 million gallons a day — and dramatically reduce the number of fish that die.

Georgia Power includes construction of a cooling tower in 2019 as part of the company’s long-range planning for pollution controls at Plant Hammond.

“There’s consensus that changes are needed at Plant Hammond,” Cook said. “We want to see the changes take place sooner than later. The Coosa and the anglers that fish it have suffered unnecessarily long enough.”

The warm water discharge from the plant also creates problems for the river’s aquatic wildlife by reducing oxygen levels in the river downstream from the plant, he said.

“Plant Hammond has been in operation for more than a half-century and these continual impacts have undoubtedly harmed fish populations and fish diversity in the Coosa and its tributaries,” Cook said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted new standards last May that require large power plants like Hammond to reduce the amount of water they take from rivers and the number of fish that are killed.

Georgia Power spokesman Brian Green said they will continue to comply with any new regulations, adding that the state is reviewing the federal rule changes and what will be needed to implement them.

“We will work with the EPD to meet whatever the new requirements ultimately end up being, including the possibility of a cooling tower,” Green said.

CRBI, the Sierra Club and GreenLaw are encouraging residents to contact the EPD and Georgia Power to emphasize the need for the cooling tower.

“Georgia Power and the EPD need to know that Georgians want change,” said Colleen Kiernan, director of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club. “Georgia Power fixed a similar problem at a plant on the Chattahoochee River. We want to see the Coosa get the same kind of love.”

The Coosa River — specifically where it receives warm-water discharges from the plant — was placed on the Georgia Water Coalition’s “Dirty Dozen” list for 2014. The annual list highlights 12 of what the group contends are the worst offenses to Georgia’s waters.