Sierra Club
New Jersey Chapter

Stop the Delaware River Fish Kills! There's a Better Way to Cool Off

Three industrial facilities on the Delaware River are consuming huge amounts of water and killing billions of fish each year under expired state permits.  Sierra Club has taken legal action to force these plants to reduce their impacts on the Delaware River as part of the campaign to Stop the Delaware River Fish Kills.  The Delaware River is an essential habitat for a wide variety of fish, water fowl, and other aquatic animals and plants and we need your help to protect this local wildlife!

The Salem Nuclear Plant, the Mercer Generating Station, and the Delaware City Refinery each use outdated once through cooling systems which trap and kill fish as water is sucked in to cool the plant and then release polluting, super-heated water back into the Delaware.

Each year Salem kills 3 billion fish, larvae, and eggs, Mercer slaughters 70 million and the Delaware City Refinery destroys over 45 million.  Together the 3 facilities extract close to 4 billion gallons of water a day from the Delaware. 

The Clean Water Act requires these plants to limit their impacts but each facility is operating under an expired permit for its cooling system that fails to impose essential limits. Sierra Club and other coalition partners are taking action to legally force New Jersey and Delaware to issue updated permits for the plants. 

Now we need your help: Write to NJ Governor Chris Christie and DE Governor Jack Markell urging them to require new permits for each facility that will better protect our fish and aquatic ecosystems.

Cooling towers are standard equipment on modern power plants.  They reduce the amount of water taken into the plant, and cool the remaining water that comes out of it, which results in reduced fish kills and a healthier and more diverse river ecosystem.  Modernizing cooling systems at older power plants like Salem, Mercer, and Delaware City Refinery will create jobs and net environmental benefits could be as high as $18 billion per year nationwide. 

Email Gov. Christie & Gov. Markell today and urge them to STOP the Delaware River Fish Kills by issuing new permits for these facilities that requires an immediate upgrade to closed-cycle cooling systems!

Talking Points:

-         Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act requires that the “location, design, construction, and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact.” These facilities should be brought into compliance immediately instead of having permits extended. Requiring closed loop systems at these facilities would reduce the fish kills and impact of super-heated water on the Delaware.   

-         The Delaware River is one of the remaining two breeding locations for the endangered New York Bight distinct population segment of sturgeon.  These facilities impact that endangered population.

-         In 2012, the Delaware River Basin Commission concluded that the stretch of the Delaware River the Mercer plant extracts and discharges water from does not support its designated uses as aquatic habitat, as a source of clean drinking water, or as a source of fish that are safe to eat.

-         Mercer’s cooling water system permit expired in 2011.  The expired permit has been administratively continued for 2 years while DEP has not acted.

-         Besides being super-heated, water discharged into the Delaware from the Mercer plant also contains mercury, selenium, and other toxic metals

-         Salem is currently operating under an expired 2001 permit that has been administratively extended for over six years.

-         Salem uses more water than all other industrial, power, and public water supply operations in the tidal portion of the Delaware combined.  Salem uses more than 2 million gallons of water a minute

-         Salem kills approximately 17% of weakfish and  an estimated 48% of striped bass in the Delaware Estuary annually

-         Salem increases the temperature of the surrounding portions of the Estuary by 8 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit on average,and the increase can be as high as 15 degrees Fahrenheit at times

-         Delaware City Refinery’s cooling system permit expired in 2002 and administratively continued for over a decade.  The plant’s intake structure has not been updated for 50 years

-         Environmental restoration needed to replace the number of striped bass killed annually by the Refinery’s cooling system would be $428 million. 


  • Your Governor


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Question - Not Required - Want to get more involved in the campaign to Stop the Delaware River Fish Kills? Let us know how you would like to help protect our fish:
Please make between 1 and 3 selections from the choices below.



Require Cooling Towers at Polluting Industrial Facilities on the Delaware River

Dear [Decision Maker],

I urge your administration to stop extending the expired permits at these facilities and to issue new NPDES permits that require the facilities to implement the best available technology to address fish kills and water pollution under the Clean Water Act.

[Your Name]
[Your Address]
[City, State ZIP]