Missouri’s waterways are some of our state’s greatest features. How many of us have spent part of the summer at Lake of the Ozarks, or floating the Huzzah or Meramec rivers? My family and I have many great memories of hunting and fishing along the banks of the Missouri River.
From a personal and professional standpoint, I believe it’s critical that we protect our natural water resources so we can continue to enjoy them for generations to come.
I know firsthand how important our lakes and rivers are because they are my job. I work in environmental services at Ameren Missouri, where some of my responsibilities include watching over how our operations use water safely, efficiently and responsibly. And I’d like to let the community know how we’re doing this.
Most people think of Ameren as power lines, but did you know that some of our clean, renewable energy is generated by the Mississippi River and by Lake of the Ozarks’ Bagnell Dam? Water is also critical to the energy generation process at our nuclear and coal-fired energy centers.
We take our responsibility to our waterways very seriously and make decisions in the best interest of the environment and the communities we serve. This means finding ways to use less water.
As Ameren makes progress on reducing carbon emissions with a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, so too are we drastically reducing the water needed for operations. We have a target to reduce water withdrawal for thermal generation 95% by 2050, based on 2005 levels.
Additionally, we’re making sure we return clean water to our waterways when we are finished using it and being good stewards of the water near our operations. Nearly every drop we use goes back where we found it.
For context, Labadie Energy Center uses approximately 3% of the Missouri River’s flow, and 99% of that water is returned to the river. That point of the river has been studied extensively in recent years, and those results show there is no difference in the amount and abundance of aquatic life on the Missouri River upstream and downstream of Labadie.
In many cases, Ameren isn’t just using water — we’re also improving the quality of water and the wildlife and recreation that relies on it. At the Osage Energy Center at Bagnell Dam, turbine upgrades have enabled us to produce more power from each drop of water while also adding more oxygen to the water, which benefits fish and other aquatic life on the lower Osage. This project received the Outstanding Stewards of America’s Waters award from the National Hydropower Association.
Many people, including my own family, come to Lake of the Ozarks to fish, but did you know Ameren helps maintain the balance of fish in the lake? We stock fish there and at the Taum Sauk lower reservoir in southeast Missouri, making each spot even more attractive to anglers. Ameren also invested in a $5 million net upstream of the Osage Energy Center to protect fish from the power generation part of the dam. This project has been extremely successful.
Anyone who frequents the lake may have witnessed one of our Adopt-the-Shoreline cleanups, when volunteers pitch in to remove trash and other debris so wildlife and people can enjoy a cleaner, more picturesque lake.
When it comes to water at our coal-fired energy centers, we often receive questions about the ash basins at four Ameren Missouri locations. People also ask how we secure the basins so that the remaining ash from energy generation does not get out into groundwater. I understand the concern — we live and work here, too, and we don’t want to see any impact to our water either.
That’s why our basins have been designed to withstand catastrophic flood and rain events, and our team inspects them weekly to ensure everything is working properly. An extensive network of monitoring wells provides us with a particularly good view of water quality on the areas surrounding the basins. We’ve tasked outside independent scientists and engineers to ensure that there is no impact to the streams and rivers near our facilities and they’ve clearly concluded that there is no impact. You can read their reports at Ameren.com/CCRFacts.
We’re also going to be the first-ever company to introduce new technology to treat water underneath the basins upon closing. This new technology can reduce metal concentrations in wastewater by up to 99%, so the water is even better than drinking water standards.
We have also chosen to install an impermeable cap on the basins so we can deploy the new technology as soon as possible. Capping basins creates less disruption and has been shown to achieve the water quality standards, whereas excavation can take decades, delays addressing groundwater concerns, and creates daily nuisances of noise, dust and significant truck traffic.
Of course, the first choice is to keep the ash out of the basins in the first place. Recycling efforts have picked up and in 2020, 76% was beneficially reused in various industries, including concrete production. We are aiming to increase recycling efforts and see a strong market for those products for years to come.
Just as we’re demonstrating with the ash basins, Ameren is always thinking about how we best protect the communities we serve. As I look at the challenges other regions are having with droughts, I’m grateful that Missouri’s rivers and lakes continue to provide us with water for drinking and farming, for work, and for play. My Ameren co-workers and I will continue to do our part to be responsible stewards of this water so we can all enjoy it for generations to come.
This commentary by Craig J. Giesmann, senior manager of environmental services at Ameren Missouri, is published through a Creative Commons license.