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Environmental impacts of coal power: water use

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Coal plants, like most other steam-producing electricity-generating plants, typically withdraw and consume water from nearby water bodies, such as lakes, rivers, or oceans, to create steam for turning their turbines.

A typical coal plant with a once-through cooling system withdraws between 70 and 180 billion gallons of water per year and consumes 0.36 to 1.1 billion gallons of that water. A typical coal plant with a wet-recirculating cooling system withdraws only a fraction as much as a once-through-cooled plant, but consumes 1.7 to 4.0 billion gallons per year, while a typical coal plant with a dry-cooled system consumes much less.  (See How it Works: Water for Coal for more information.)

When water is drawn into a coal power plant, millions of fish eggs, fish larvae, and juvenile fish may also come along with it. In addition, millions of adult fish may become trapped against the intake structures. Many of these fish are injured or die in the process.