Miami-Dade County will spend the next month combing through a massive trove of data submitted by Florida Power & Light this week to justify its plan for cleaning up leaky cooling canals at the utility’s Turkey Point nuclear power plant.
The county has also hired a University of Florida hydrologist to ensure the plan stops an underground plume of saltwater threatening drinking water supplies and leaking into Biscayne Bay.
We’re actually looking to make it much better and getting back to original conditions.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez
“We’re not looking to just stop the hypersaline plume, we’re looking to draw it back,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez told commissioners during an update at Tuesday’s county commission meeting, a day after FPL turned over its plan to county environmental regulators. “We’re actually looking to make it much better and getting back to original conditions.”
Never miss a local story.
FPL has been grappling with problems at the plant, the sixth largest in the nation, since 2014 when temperatures in the canals spiked during a regional drought. The crisis, which twice caused the plant’s two nuclear reactors to power down, shed light on a thornier problem — for decades, salinity in canals used to cool the plant has been creeping up and causing an underground plume of saltwater to spread. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, canal water has now migrated more than five miles west of the canals, closing in a wellfield that supplies drinking water to the Florida Keys.
But fixing the problem has been a complex process, complicated by science and politics.
In a report requested by Commissioner Rebeca Sosa and finalized last week, University of Miami hydrologist David Chin faulted the utility for doing too little to ensure the canals would work properly before it uprated the plant’s two reactors to produce more energy.
The canals began running hotter than expected after the uprate, he reported, causing them to work less efficiently and leading to a series of problems that also likely worsened the plume.
The utility, critics says, has also benefited from a cozy relationship with state regulators — the former head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection now serves as the utility’s chief of governmental affairs. News that the utility planned to pass along clean-up costs estimated at $50 million just this year, on top of costs for two new reactors, has also angered critics.
$50 millionThe cost of clean-up that FPL says it will likely ask customers to pay.
According to the plan — part of a deal worked out after the county sued — FPL has proposed cleaning up the plume with a series of extraction wells. The wells would remove 15 million gallons a day of salty water from the canals while FPL adds up to 14 million gallons a day of less salty brackish water from the Floridan aquifer.
To reach the strategy, FPL’s consultants considered seven alternatives for wells in various locations, capable of removing different amounts of canal water. Half looked at installing the wells along the western border of the canals to prevent canal water from pushing the saltwater plume further west. The others considered installing wells further west, either closer to the front of a plume or on the western edge of the salt front.
In the past, FPL has said the canal water would be disposed of by injecting it into the boulder zone beneath the Biscayne aquifer. That option was not included in the outline the county provided Tuesday. FPL failed to respond to requests for information, but provided a statement saying if approved by the county, the utility will immediately begin work.
"The data-driven methodical plan demonstrates our ability to move the hypersaline plume back in an environmentally responsible manner and reverse a situation compounded by numerous environmental factors,” Randy LaBauve, FPL Vice President of Environmental Services, said in the statement.
But critics worry the plan fails to address canal water leaking into Biscayne Bay, which caused elevated levels of ammonia and phosphorus in samples taken last year.
You’re moving along with protecting the potable water, but we also need to protect Biscayne National Park.
Laura Reynolds, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
“You’re moving along with protecting the potable water, but we also need to protect Biscayne National Park,” Laura Reynolds, a consultant for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and former director of Tropical Audubon, told commissioners.
In a letter last week, Biscayne National Park interim superintendent Bill Cox also warned regulators that monitoring efforts — established after the reactors were uprated to keep watch for the kinds of problems now occurring — were dropped by the state. He also pointed out that phosphorus levels in the bay detected by the county exceed state water quality standards and asked that federal, state and county regulators reinstate monitoring efforts removed by the state.