Saturday, May 24
BRATTLEBORO — Conservation groups plan to appeal a decision by Environmental Court Judge Meredith Wright to allow Entergy to increase the temperature of the reactor cooling water its Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant discharges into the Connecticut River. While Wright did throw the conservation groups a fishbone by limiting the times of increased thermal discharge and ordering Entergy to track water temperatures in the river more closely.

The Connecticut River Watershed Council, Trout Unlimited and the Citizen's Awareness Network opposed the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources' decision to allow Entergy to release heated water at levels that would increase the temperature of the entire river by 1 degree.

Yankee already has a permit allowing it to increase the river's temperature by 5 degrees.

"For the period from June 16 through July 7, the requested 1 degree increase in the summer thermal regime of the existing expired permit is DENIED, unless the discharge can be managed so that it results in an actual measured temperature at the fishway sensor not to exceed 76.7 degrees F," wrote Wright in her 38-page decision.

Wright took testimony last July from river and fish experts about the CWRC's contention that higher river temperatures hurt migratory fish populations, particularly salmon and shad, by inhibiting spawning and damaging the viability of eggs.


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The original Entergy request was to increase the temperature beginning May 15 and did not anticipate the use of sensors at the fishway at the Vernon Dam to track water temperatures. The court let stand other provisions of Entergy's plan that will allow for increases in the water temperature in other months. Yankee discharges heated water into the river at rates of up to 543 million gallons a day.

By doing so, Yankee is able to reduce the load - or turn them off altogether - on the plants two banks of cooling fans. Using the massive fans uses up 20megaWatts of Yankee's production, electricity Entergy can't sell because it's using it.

"We are pleased that the environmental court imposed additional safeguards to protect the river from increased temperatures in the summer season, and we are encouraged by the court's repeated references to the opportunity to revisit the broader questions of the cumulative effects of Vermont Yankee's discharge in the next round of permitting." stated David Deen, river steward with the CRWC, in a press release announcing the decision.

"We received good news late this week from the Vermont Environmental Court which conditionally approved our request to increase the river temperature limit by one degree over the previous limit," "Vermont Yankee is a responsible steward of the river and the temperature limit request presented to state regulators was based on scientific, peer reviewed data gathered on the river since before the plant's operation. The small leeway granted on the temperature limit will help ensure the plant's reliable output during the warmer summer months for the region's electric consumers. Vermont Yankee is reviewing the approval with the river biologists who presented testimony on the request."

Patrick Parenteau, a Vermont Law School professor who argued the case on behalf of CRWC and other groups, said that while the decision limited some aspects of the discharge, it did not go far enough in applying the law to the facts of the case.

"We respectfully disagree with Judge Wright's interpretation of the Clean Water Act in several key respects, and we will seek to correct the errors in the Vermont Supreme Court," stated Parenteau, senior counsel with the law school's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic. "As we have said all along, the Connecticut River and its habitat should not have to bear the cost of increasing profits for Entergy, so it's important that we keep up the effort."

In 1992, the plant's owners were granted a discharge permit that allowed Vermont Yankee to discharge overheated water at a rate that would increase the river's temperature by as much as 5 degrees, stated Deen. That increase never required Entergy to monitor water temperature in the fishway at Vernon Dam, as is now required by Wright's decision.

"The temperature increase was a mistake then and it is a mistake now," Deen stated, noting the dramatic decline of the shad population returning to the river above Vernon, where the plant is located, since the initial permit was issued. "Entergy will now be required to provide real temperature information at the fishway. We will know the temperature regime and its impact on migrating fish. We will be able to hold them accountable if they exceed the court's set temperature limit."