PG&E Agrees to $5.9M Water Discharge Settlement
The Pacific Gas and Electric Company recently reached a settlement agreement, involving the payment of $5.9 million to the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The settlement arrives as a resolution for PG&E’s alleged violations involving the company’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from discharges of once-through cooling water into the Pacific Ocean from its Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.
“We take protecting water quality and marine habitat very seriously,” board chair Jean-Pierre Wolff said in the release last month. “This settlement demonstrates our commitment to safeguard and restore our region’s waters, and the board intends to apply the settlement funds toward high priority water quality projects in alignment with statewide priorities associated with environmental justice, public health, climate change, water supply resiliency or watershed functions that support healthy ecosystems.”
According to reports, PG&E’s nuclear power plant had been piping water from Diablo Cove to transform into condensed steam, which is used in the reacting process before the water is then returned to the ocean. However, in turning the water into steam, the temperature of the water is increased and stays significantly warmer than the water originally pulled from the cove.
This change in water temperature, having been returned to the cove, is reported to have negative effects, such as creating an artificial ecosystem and damaging algae and small fish. Biologists have also estimated that Diablo Canyon sucks in more than 1.5 billion fish larvae a year, most of which do not survive.
In terms of temperature specifics, Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board spokesperson Ailene Voisin has reported that the thermal water discharge is roughly 20 degrees Fahrenheit above the ambient ocean temperature.
While activists have long pressured the company to reduce its “well-documented and well-understood” effects of thermal water discharge in the cove, those attempts were pushed aside after PG&E announced that it would be decommissioning the plant starting in 2024.
Although the recent settlement recognizes the impacts of dumping warmer water back into the ocean, Voisin also noted that “there are no feasible technological alternatives or modifications that can be made to prevent the thermal discharges.”
In her research, she added that annual reports and analysis of Diablo Cove and its vicinity of the power plant confirm that the biological changes from the discharge have stabilized over the years and are in general limited to only Diablo Cove. The temperature change to the area’s water is expected to last throughout the plant’s full closure in 2025.
Filed with the San Luis Obispo Superior Court on May 25, the $5.9 million settlement arrived after the completion of the water board’s investigation into the alleged violations of Diablo Canyon’s permit to use water from the Pacific Ocean in its cooling system.
In addition to the $5.9 million settlement, PG&E has already been making annual payments to mitigate the impacts of its discharges and is expected to pay approximately $38 million in total for the plant’s operating years 2015 through 2025, according to the release.
As aforementioned, the settlement funds are to be utilized for water quality projects that benefit the region, however, no specific projects have been listed by the board at this time.
“The board intends to apply the settlement funds toward high priority water quality projects in alignment with statewide priorities associated with environmental justice, public health, climate change, water supply resiliency or watershed functions that support healthy ecosystems,” Wolff added.
The general public will also have the opportunity to weigh in on the funding implementation plan prior to its consideration by the board during a yet-to-be-scheduled public meeting.