Two of Long Island's largest power plants continue to draw billions of gallons from local waterways annually, destroying billions of fish eggs, larvae and aquatic life despite a 4-year-old state policy to end the practice.
The state Department of Conservation in 2011 issued a policy requiring new and existing plants to use the "best available" cooling systems to reduce or eliminate massive water intakes and end the severe impacts on aquatic life. The DEC tied renewal of required pollution discharge permits to compliance with the order.
But Long Island's largest plants continue to operate with antiquated cooling systems after the state extended their permits. The extensions remain in place as the state and plant owner National Grid study the impact of the order.
Each day it operates, the National Grid power plant in Northport draws 939 million gallons of water from the Long Island Sound, the DEC says. The practice destroys an estimated 8.4 billion fish eggs and larvae a year and kills or injures up to 127,118 fish, which can get trapped in intake filters and other plant gear.
The E.F. Barrett plant in Island Park draws 294 million gallons a day from Western Bays during operation, destroying some 906 million fish eggs and up to 176,044 fish a year.
Elimination of the current once-through cooling systems, in use at Northport and Island Park, is the most effective way to reduce or stop fish mortality, the DEC said. It recommends closed-cycle systems that use up to 98 percent less water, which is discharged into cooling ponds and reused.
Two other National Grid plants in Glenwood Landing and Far Rockaway that had similar cooling systems have since been retired.
Critics say the review loophole has allowed National Grid to avoid complying with an environmentally critical order.
"Whether delays to date have resulted from bureaucratic foot dragging by DEC or National Grid's recalcitrance, the reality is that the . . . [Barrett] station is operating under a . . . . permit that expired in 2009," environmental lawyer Reed Super, for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, wrote to the DEC.
In a statement, National Grid said it "has been working with and under the direction of the DEC to study impacts of the cooling water intake systems to aquatic life and propose technologies that could reduce those impacts."
The DEC didn't respond to a request for comment.
While those reports are being studied, National Grid said, its permits to operate the Northport and Barrett plants have been extended by the DEC. "Both plants operate in compliance with permit conditions," the company said.
At its Port Jefferson plant, National Grid said "certain technologies and operational measures" were installed and enacted to comply with the state policy.
National Grid and partner NextEra have proposed a larger overhaul for the Island Park plant called repowering, a process that incorporates a modern cooling system that would meet the DEC standard. But after PSEG Long Island last year found LIPA has adequate power to last beyond 2020 without new power sources, the Barrett repowering has been stalled.
Urged by consultants to the plant developer NextEra Energy Resources, including former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, many local and state lawmakers are behind repowering.
"It would be far more efficient and beneficial to the environment, especially because it would no longer continue to draw water from the local channel," said Assemb. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach).
But Citizens Campaign, which has advocated for more modern cooling systems, says it remains unclear a repowering of Barrett is necessary. In the interim, the group says, National Grid should work to reduce impacts on fish.
"The biggest question for us is the need," said Adrienne Esposito, Citizens Campaign executive director. "Is it . . . [a repowered plant] needed? In the meantime, they can do mitigation measures to decrease fish kills and impacts on the marine environment."