Sunday, July 5, 2009

Lake Source Cooling Debate Heats Up

Since 2000, Cornell has relied on a process known as Lake Source Cooling to pump cooler air into many of the buildings on campus. The IJ describes this process:
Lake Source Cooling works by pulling frigid water from the bottom of Cayuga Lake, pumping it into a heat exchanger where it cools other water that is sent by pipes to campus for use in air conditioning. The lake water is returned to the shallow southern end of Cayuga Lake.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has alleged that Lake Source Cooling is responsible for a decline in water quality in Cayuga Lake over the past decade. The problem here is phosphorus:
Phosphorus, in the form of dead aquatic life and vegetation, naturally sinks to the bottom of the lake. When Cornell pulls water out of the bottom of the lake, 250 feet deep, it pulls this phosphorus with it. The water is returned to the shallow southern edge of the lake, about 10 feet deep, where sunlight can make the nutrients usable.
Phosphorus increases algae growth, which results in a decrease in water quality.

Cornell, naturally, has argued that the DEC is incorrect and that Lake Source Cooling does not have a negative environmental effect.

I'm sure that in the fall, some campus environmental groups will start putting pressure on Cornell to conduct further testing. In a Sun article from 2007, the president of Cornell's Sustainability Hub indicated that he didn't see anything wrong with the process.

The Sun also noted the financial and environmental benefits of the process:
By using the lake’s cold water to pull heat from warmer water used in air cooling systems on campus, the University has cut electricity used for cooling by 85 percent and eliminated the need for using greenhouse gas-emitting energies and large refrigerants using harmful chlorofluorocarbons.
It's tough for environmental groups to take a hard stand against Lake Source Cooling, since the alternative is the traditional, polluting system of air conditioning.

Many local citizens have been against the project from the onset, and have posted pictures online of alleged destruction from Lake Source Cooling.

Especially given the university's current financial situation, I'm sure Cornell has no intentions of stopping Lake Source Cooling. Just another example of a town-gown rift.

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