SWEPCO looks to change water quality standards in Red River

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 374 views 

The public will have an opportunity to comment on a proposal from Southwest Electric Power Co. to change Arkansas Water Quality Standards for a portion of the Red River, between the mouth of the Little River and the Arkansas/Louisiana state line.

At 6 p.m. March 20, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission will host a public hearing on the proposal which regards treated wastewater that is discharged from the John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant in Fulton. The hearing will take place at Washington Suite in Hempstead Hall at University of Arkansas Community College in Hope.

SWEPCO is seeking the change to “allow the Turk facility to operate as designed while protecting the attainment of the aquatic life, primary and  secondary contact recreation and industrial and agriculture water designated uses for the Red River,” according to SWEPCO’s Jan. 13 petition. It also shows that “no current economically feasible treatment technology” exists to remove the minerals “to meet the current criteria.”

The proposed change would modify the allowed concentration of total dissolved solids (TDS) to 780 milligrams per liter of water in the previously described portion of the Red River. The change to this level “will have no adverse effect on the aquatic life communities,” the petition shows. Changing the allowed concentration to 780 mg/L “will not cause acute or chronic toxicity.”

On Oct. 23, 2015, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission approved increasing the allowed concentration of total dissolved solids to 860 mg/L, from 500 mg/L, for the Red River, according to the petition. However, the Clean Water Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency to approve any changes in water quality standards, and on May 16, 2016, the EPA denied the changes, citing lack of information on aquatic life and that Louisiana’s water quality standard for the Red River was 780 mg/L.

If approved, the Jan. 13 petition would change the water quality standard to be consistent with Louisiana’s standard of 780 mg/L. The $1.8 billion Turk power plant, which started operating Dec. 20, 2012, discharges treated wastewater into the Little River a tributary of the Red River, about two miles away from the plant. The treated wastewater comes from a pond, “containing primarily cooling tower blowdown and previously monitored low volume waste,” according to the ADEQ.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, cooling tower blowdown is the dissolved solids, such as calcium, magnesium, chloride and silica, that remain after water evaporates from the tower. The towers are used to reduce heat from water that’s “used to cool chillers, air conditioners and other process equipment to the ambient air.” Heat is pushed from the cooling towers through evaporation. “Therefore, by design, cooling towers use significant amounts of water.”

The deadline to submit comments in writing is 4:30 p.m. March 30. They can be mailed to Kelly Robinson, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, 5301 Northshore Drive, North Little Rock, Arkansas 72118 or emailed to [email protected].