Georgia, and other states in the Southeast are learning a lesson that communities on the Hudson River in New York know well: burning coal the old fashioned way costs the river environment, not just the air.
By now, everyone's familiar with the list of pollutants that spew from coal-fired power plants, including the compounds that form ozone, smog and acid rain; those that make our fish contaminated with mercury; and those that fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, fueling global warming.
But coal-fired power plants -- along with nuclear and other fossil fuel plants -- also use a lot of water. Typically, this water is sucked in to a plant, used to cool condensers and then flushed back into the river or lake on whose banks the plant sits. In the process, millions of fish, fish eggs, fish larvae and other aquatic life can be killed, and heated water discharged can cause ecological problems downstream as well.
The Hudson River has been ground zero -- for 30 years -- in the fight environmentalists have waged to have old plants upgraded, and have new plants built to use minimal water. Most plants built today use a fraction of the water old plants use, but the Environmental Protection Agency has resisted ordering upgrades on older plants.
Upgrading plants is not cheap. Not by a long shot. But the drought highlights another facet of the issue: It isn't just about fish. It's about people. When drought makes water scarce, it helps if your drinking water needs don't have to compete with your electricity needs.
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