Water temperature duration curves for thermoelectric power plant mixing zone analysis

Lauren H. Logan, Ashlynn S. Stillwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Thermoelectric power plants, constituting the largest withdrawals of fresh water in the United States, can cause thermal pollution in waterways via elevated temperature effluent. Thermal pollution can contribute to shifts in aquatic ecosystems, with many aquatic ecosystems already threatened by climate change. Thermal pollution can be quantified, via mixing models, to create a corresponding temperature duration curve (TDC). To demonstrate and compare TDCs, a scenario analysis was conducted using Energy Information Administration (EIA) power plant data and USGS river data. Thermal pollution on a medium and large river from small (300 MW), medium (650 MW), and large (1,575 MW) coal-fired, open-loop cooled power plants generated distinct temperature conditions. Overall, results show that the size of the receiving waterway and the temperature difference between intake and discharge water, ΔT, are the largest factors that influence TDCs. TDCs can inform thermoelectric power plant operational decision making, particularly in regards to regulatory mixing zones (RMZs), and also be used as a predictive tool in risk assessment, both with respect to power plants and aquatic ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number04018058
JournalJournal of Water Resources Planning and Management
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Energy-water nexus
  • Hydrologic thermal pollution
  • Regulatory mixing zones
  • Temperature duration curve
  • Thermoelectric power plants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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