For more than a century, Great Lakes fish populations have acted as an important indicator of the health of the Great Lakes. As threats to the Lakes mounted—pollution, over-fishing, and invasive species to name a few—fish populations plummeted, and in some cases went extinct.
It is not surprising, then, that a major goal of Great Lakes restoration is “to produce healthy fish communities that support sustainable commercial, subsistence, and recreational fisheries.”
That milestone may be difficult to achieve in Lake Erie, unless the Ohio EPA forces a Toledo-area power plant to stop killing more than 46 million fish a year.
The FirstEnergy Corp’s power plant sits near the confluence of the Maumee River and Lake Erie—a major spawning ground for Lake Erie’s fishery, which is valued at $800 million annually. A recent Ohio EPA study found that roughly 46 million fish are being caught in FirstEnergy Corp’s cooling water screens and killed.
Recently, environmental and conservation groups in Ohio put dollar signs to the fish kill: $29.7 million each year in lost commercial fishing and sales in Toledo and Ohio.
Every day 126,000 fish are caught in the screens of the 55-year old power plant. FirstEnergy is testing reverse louvers to see if it would help avoid such large numbers of fish from being killed, but a consultant from the state’s EPA office said the louvers will not be effective.
What will be effective? A cooling tower.
“Cooling towers can dramatically reduce the number of fish killed each year by 95%, as well as address the Bayshore plant’s violations of thermal discharge standards,” said Shannon Fisk, staff attorney in the Midwest office of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The science is clear that Bayshore’s water intake and thermal discharges are severely impacting fisheries in Maumee Bay, and the law is clear that Ohio EPA must require cooling towers if the Bayshore plant is going to continue to operate.”
NRDC and other environmental groups are urging the Ohio EPA and Department of Natural Resources to force the utility to install the $100 million cooling tower—and to do it without passing along the costs to customers.
“We caution that the cost of best available technology should not be shifted to the utility giant’s ratepayers,” said Kristy Meyer, director of agricultural and clean water programs for the Ohio Environmental Council. “For 55 years, the ratepayers have been footing the bill for this failed technology. To add insult to injury, consumers even have to pay to restock certain prized fish. It’s time that FirstEnergy be held accountable and require its shareholders to reimburse the citizens of Ohio for the billions of fish killed each year. Since when is a robbery victim forced to reimburse the robber? Let the shareholders shoulder the burden of installing cooling towers, not the captive ratepayers.”