River water will become key issue
Plant would have rights to more river water than Victoria


December 19, 2007

Water is at the heart of the debate about bringing nuclear power to South Texas.

Nuclear proponents say the Guadalupe River will supply the massive needs this plant would have for water. Critics disagree.

Tom Mundy, Exelon's director of new plant development, said a new-age power plant requires about 75,000-acre-feet of water per year. Just one acre-foot of water is enough to supply a family of five with water for a year.

Water is needed, in part, to cool and transform the plant's steam into liquid.

Mundy said 75,000-acre-feet is a conceptual figure. Because plans are not finalized, estimated water needs are not certain.

The estimated figure is three times the amount of water the city of Victoria has rights to.

The operation of a nuclear power plant - similar to the one Victoria may be home to - requires a cooling pond. This pond's water, fed by the river and rainwater, will circulate throughout the plant.

The pond will be about 5,000 acres large, Exelon officials estimate. By comparison, Coleto Creek Park and Reservoir's lake is 3,100 acres large.

Some of the pond's water is lost through natural seepage and evaporation, as well as through evaporation induced by the plant's heat. Water also is returned to the river to keep chemical balances in the lake at preferred levels.

Mundy said those downstream would not be hurt by 75,000-acre-feet of water drawn from the river a year. He said downstream users might be helped -if the pond is used to store water for GBRA in times of low river flows, which may happen.

Others argue that you can't remove that much water from a river without hurting the system somewhere.

Tim Andruss, general manager of the Victoria County Groundwater Conservation District, said such demanding surface water needs may force other industries or municipalities to one day rely primarily on groundwater.

"There's a finite amount of water," Andruss said. "I would say development in general is something that the groundwater district must concern itself with. A nuclear plant doesn't concern me more than any other industry does."

The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, which manages the river, agreed to a deal with Exelon that reserves that water for the nuclear power company for two years.

The deal cost Exelon a $200,000 fee, Mundy said, and a $5-per-acre-foot monthly charge - or about $800,000.

The cost of water beyond those two years has yet to be negotiated.

Bill West, GBRA's general manager, said tests were conducted to determine that other river users would not suffer from such a deal.

"We still have adequate supply for other users downstream," he said, explaining that includes the bays and estuaries.

West noted that local supporters told him that water, if not used here, could eventually be piped to needy cities such as San Antonio.

Bill Jones, an O'Connor family spokesman and Region L water-planning member, however, said he is worried.

Although he said he understands excitement for the economic potential of nuclear power, the prospects of draining needed water dull it for him.

"Last summer the city of Victoria actually had to stop using river water because the level was so low," Jones said. "When you take another 75,000-acre-feet for a nuclear power plant, it's easy to see that in times of drought the water availability would not be firm."

Taking that water from Region L's plan would leave the lower basin in a 50,000-acre-foot-per-year deficit, Jones said.

"The extra water is going to have to come from somewhere, and it's not going to be able to come from river water," he said. "There are a lot of demands on the Guadalupe River. This just doesn't add up."

Jones represents the O'Connors, who have land near the proposed site, he said. "All I'll say about that now is our concerns will be addressed during the permitting process."

It's during that process that Mundy said environmental and socioeconomic impacts will be further explained.

That process also will detail how water in the cooling pond will be monitored for potential pollutants and heat, Mundy said.

Gabe Semenza is a reporter for the Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6519 or gsemenza @ vicad.com.

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