WASHINGTON – Duke Energy has formally asked the National Park Servicefor permission to build a pipeline that would pull up to 7.5 milliongallons of water per day from the Potomac River.
Plans published by the park service Friday show that the underground pipeline would run more than 1.5 miles through the C&O Canal NationalHistoric Park to Point of Rocks, where the water would be used to cool aproposed Duke power plant.
“That’s the primary source we’re looking at,” said Kate Perez, DukeEnergy public affairs manager. “At this time, this project is verydependent on that source.”
Even though a yearlong drought has the Potomac running at less thanhalf its normal flow for this time of year, Perez said there is stillenough water to cool the plant’s proposed three generators withoutharming the river.
“We’ve gotten historical data for 100 years,” Perez said. “And even atits lowest record there is more than enough water to meet our needs.”
Neal Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Audubon Naturalist Societyin Maryland, disagrees. He says that Duke Energy and other industries are”sucking the river dry.” But he doubts that the project will be blocked.
“It doesn’t sound like this is going to stop Duke Energy,” he said.
But groundbreaking is still a long way off.
Douglas Faris, the park’s superintendent, said that after the mandated45- day period for public comment on the pipeline, the park service willmove forward with some form of environmental study that would take atleast 15 months.
“We’re obviously a year and some months from even making a preliminary decision,” he said.
And the Maryland Public Service Commission in July halted action onall power plants, after an increase in applications prompted eight stateagencies and departments to express concern about the potential impact ofthe projects. The agencies wrote to the PSC asking for a moratorium onpending applications while studied the issue.
“[O]ur existing process lacks any parameters by which either the commission or the state agencies can constructively focus multiple plant proposals in a manner that provides adequate electric supply whileprotecting our air, land and water resources,” the letter said.
The PSC agreed to delay any action until January.
Charles Garlow, with the state chapter of the Sierra Club, saidMaryland needs to take a serious look at the number of power plantapplications pending.
“Is this the right thing to do?” he asked. “We are moving in the wrong direction by building these plants.”
Garlow also wondered whether the Duke pipeline could interfere with recreational use of the park. But Faris said that the pumping station andany other aboveground structures would be off park property and thatconstruction would not bother park users, either.
“It shouldn’t disrupt the towpath. We wouldn’t allow that,” Farissaid.
Perez emphasized that the plant would only use 7.5 million gallons of water per day at full capacity. Documents on the company’s web site saidthat normally 4.66 million gallons per day would be used.
Either way, Garlow thinks it is too much.
“Using up our last drops of water is stupid.”