Keeping an eye on the inlet

The Clarion reported this week that Homer Electric Association is seeking a permit to discharge treated process wastewater into Cook Inlet from its Nikiski Combined Cycle Plant.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is mulling the five-year permit, which would allow for up to 50,400 gallons of wastewater per day to be discharged containing reverse osmosis reject water, carbon filter back washes and wash down water.

The permit application indicates the process will result in minor discharges of chlorine, copper, arsenic and other materials found in the source water, including potential for oil and grease, but likely not benzene. Officials have said the project is a relatively low volume of discharge and the concentration of these pollutants is not high. They’ve also said water leaving the established eight-meter mixing zone will be diluted to the point where all water quality standards should be met.

We currently have a rigorous permitting process in place to make sure those standards are upheld and we expect nothing less from HEA and the state. Water quality in the inlet is extremely important to us and we don’t take lightly the responsibility of all parties involved.

The project is also a reminder we should always consider the results of the actions we take.

This discharge is being produced as a result of HEA’s Independent Light project. New turbines will be fueled by steam produced from exhaust heat coming off the existing natural gas turbine in the area, allowing for nearly twice the generation power, from 40 megawatts to as much as 77 megawatts.

But the result is the wastewater discharge. This is a microcosm of the world we live in.

There are numerous other places all along the inlet where wastewater is regulated and allowed to be discharged. Permitting in various forms is also required for mining, gas and oil development and other work.

This is simply the result of our society’s developments, whether they are said to be benign water discharges or other major pollutants that end up in our water bodies either through intended or unintended actions.
We are pleased to see, as is the case here, that the permitting process is working to balance the effects development and conservation.

But now we must uphold our end of the bargain.

We have the opportunity to make meaningful comment on this discharge and all the others in our waters. We can gauge for ourselves the effects and reasons for the discharge and suggest ways to mitigate it. Yet how many permits go without comment? How many take a few minutes to provide their thoughts?

So take on the responsibility. Write the state and let them know how you feel about this project and others in our waters. Many organizations across the Peninsula , such as the Kenai Watershed Forum, advocate for our water and its cleanliness.

But it is also important for all residents to know what is going into the inlet. The water quality of the area is perhaps as important if not more important to our area as other issues that regularly make headlines across the state — oil taxes, permanent fund dividend, actions of the state Legislature, to name a few.

Comments can be sent to: Melinda Smodey, DEC, Division of Water, 555 Cordova Street, Anchorage, AK, 99501, or emailed to melinda.smodey@alaska.gov.

In short: We encourage residents to pay attention to this and other wastewater discharges into our inlet, rivers, lakes and streams, big or small, benign or hazardous. Our economy and way of life is greatly tied to the balance of development and the health of our waters. That balance can only be achieved through vetting of public opinions from all sides.

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