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Sierra Club Challenges Ravenswood over Water Withdrawal Application

In August 2011 Governor Mario Cuomo signed a new law “to protect New York’s water. “ A press release promised “an effective water conservation and efficiency program.” The Sierra Club NYC Group is now monitoring how this law is being implemented with the first application to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). We are not off to a great start and need your help to set things straight.

The first water withdrawal application under the 2011 law was submitted in August 2013 by TransCanada for its Ravenswood Generating Facility in Queens. It has the capacity to serve 21% of NYC’s peak load as a 2,480 megawatt power plant and applied for 1.5 BILLION  gallons of water per day. The Ravenswood Energy Plan uses mostly natural gas, some fuel oil #6 and kerosene according to its website. It is located just above the 59th St. Bridge. The NYS (DEC) recently indicated that the permit is granted as of right,  in a letter to people who raised concerns about the lack of hearings and an environmental impact review when the permit was made public in August of this year.

Ravenswood’s Antiquated Cooling System

Ravenswood, like other energy plants, needs water to boil in order to create steam, which then spins turbines to generate electricity. Once boiling water has been used it needs to be cooled before returned into the East River in order to minimize ecological damage.

Ravenswood, however, uses an antiquated “once through” cooling system. This is because clean cold water is abundant and the “once through” system is cheap. This process creates havoc in the local ecosystem and aquatic life since water is sucked into the energy plant together with fish, eggs and larvae. It affects the health of the river, and everyone else who uses it from tourists to fishermen and industrial manufacturers.

Given this information, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups expected a robust regulatory process to fulfill the objectives of the 2011 law: To promote water conservation, ecological health and equity among all users. The Club has called for public hearings and an environmental review under the State’s Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).

A Dangerous Precedent

 The Sierra Club has written letters to elected officials in Albany to make them aware of what we have found. We expect that there will be in total 16 applications for similar water withdrawal permits – 4 in NYC — all from electric generating facilities. The total maximum reported usage of 10 BILLION Gallons a Day. The DEC needs to conduct an Environmental Review for every water withdrawal permit and require that all generating facilities use the best technology to reduce the huge number of fish killed annually.

In NYC, without an environmental review, public officials will be left out of the review process. Huge withdrawals by these generating plants have an impact on the East and Hudson Rivers, water bodies that are crucial for the economy and well being of NYC residents.  We need to have an opportunity for input on the impacts of issuing permits for water withdrawals!

If you are interested in working on this issue contact Irene Van Slyke at Irene.vanslyke@verizon.net, or Arthur Kuipers at arthur.kuypers@gmail.com.

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