08/17/2011 03:26 pm ET | Updated Oct 17, 2011

How to Stop Giant Fish Blenders

Now there's a headline to catch your attention. It may sound silly -- but it's actually a very real threat. Power plants are killing fish and damaging our waterways via their outdated once-through cooling systems. We need your help now, too, because the deadline for action to remedy this situation is Thursday, August 18th!

Let me explain what we mean by giant fish blenders. Antiquated power plants (many of them coal-fired power plants) throughout the nation use water-intake structures to help cool systems that have generated heat during the energy-making process. These pipes sit below the water's surface and suck in not only water, but also anything else in the vicinity. This process shreds and destroys the aquatic life drawn in.

After the water is drawn through the power plant, it is discharged at an elevated temperature back into the waterbody, causing even more damage. The process affects the full spectrum of wildlife in the aquatic ecosystem at all life stages -- from tiny photosynthetic organisms to fish, shrimp, crabs, birds and marine mammals. Some areas face devastating economic impacts as fisheries are threatened and recreational uses are diminished.

The amount of water used by these power plants is also staggering; Collectively, steam-electric power plants have the capacity to withdraw more than 370 billion gallons per day in the U.S. -- more than 135 trillion gallons per year -- from our nation's waters for cooling. This accounts for 49% of all water use. That's more water than all irrigation and public water supplies combined in the U.S.

Unfortunately, instead of stopping these giant fish blenders (aka, the power plants), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bowed to intense pressure from powerful industry interests. The EPA has decided not to require power plants to use the best technology available. Instead, EPA issued a proposed standard that largely maintains the status quo, offering little-to-no improvement in the technologies required to protect our waterways and our wildlife.

But there's a solution. "Closed-cycle cooling" is the best technology available to reduce the impacts of cooling water systems and is both cost-effective and already in use across the country. Closed-cycle cooling reduces water intakes by approximately 95 percent, drastically reducing the amount of water needed for power plant operations, and resulting in a much less impact to fish and other species and the surrounding ecosystem.

But the cooling water guidelines currently proposed by the EPA will do little to address the devastation I've described and that we describe in our recently-released report "Giant Fish Blenders: How Power Plants Kill Fish & Damage Our Waterways (And What Can Be Done to Stop Them."

We hope that the report will illuminate the harmful effects of once-through cooling on the health of our fisheries and waterways, and will encourage the EPA to require higher standards for these systems.

But you can help, too. Check out our Fish Blenders page to learn more and send an email to EPA and Administrator Lisa Jackson demanding that they require better cooling systems that won't destroy aquatic life via a huge power plant blender.