Miami-Dade County

FPL plan to cool nuke canals clears hurdle

State water managers signed off Thursday on an emergency request for millions more gallons of water to control rising temperatures in cooling canals at Turkey Point — but not before critics urged closer scrutiny of the 168-mile long loop that keeps the nuclear power plant from overheating.

“We’re very concerned that this is going to be a precedent-setting action,” Biscayne National Park Superintendent Brian Carlstrom told the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District. “We’re also concerned that the conditions in the cooling canals are symptomatic of a bigger problem.”

The board unanimously approved the emergency water request, which will now go before the Miami-Dade County Commission for approval on Tuesday.

In June, Florida Power & Light asked the district for an additional 14 million gallons of water a day from the brackish Floridan aquifer to help cool the vital canals. The utility has blamed below average rainfall for raising temperatures and salinity and fueling an algae bloom that has trapped even more heat. The utility began treating the canals with chemicals in June in an effort to control the bloom and lower temperatures.

But as summer dragged on, the algae has persisted and temperatures have spiked. FPL reported temperatures in the canal system adjacent to the power complex along South Biscayne Bay reached 102 degrees in July and August.

So last month, the utility made a second emergency bid for up to 100 million gallons a day from the nearby L-31 canal. Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also approved FPL’s request to raise limits on operating temperatures in the canal from 100 degrees to 104 degrees. While FPL and nuclear regulators stress that the hotter canals do not pose a public safety risk, reactors are supposed to shut down if the canals exceed temperature limits — raising the potential risk of power outages.

“We believe that the temporary use of excess storm water, if available, can make an immediate positive impact,” FPL spokeswoman Bianca Cruz said in a statement. “Our long-term actions will be based on results of the steps we are taking now.”

But environmentalists and park officials worry that diverting so much freshwater could endanger plans to revive Biscayne Bay. The bay also has suffered from algae blooms and high salinity since development and flood-control canals choked off water that historically flowed south through the Everglades.

The issue of water critical to Everglades restoration also triggered complaints about plans by U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers of Florida to rezone 43,000 acres of Hendry County agriculture land for 18,000 houses and 25 million square feet of stores, warehouses and other commercial use. The state has an option to buy the land, but restoration advocates worry rezoning it before the Oct. 15 deadline could drive up the price.

Earlier this week, 46 organizations sent a joint letter to Gov. Rick Scott demanding the state Department of Economic Opportunity object to the plan, which would be built over the next three decades.

“You as this board need to speak up,” said Lisa Interlandi, regional director of the Everglades Law Center. “Without this land, there is no other alternative for restoring that land.”

But government officials from Hendry County, including Gregg Gillman, president of the county’s Economic Development Council, argued the chronically poor county needs jobs.

“All we’re asking is that we want our share,” he said. “We want a piece of it.”

As for Turkey Point’s canals, critics said the district needs to do more to address many unanswered questions.

Carlstrom and others asked the district to require FPL to convene an independent team of scientists to examine the problems plaguing the cooling canal system, which also is a suspect in salt water intrusion that threatens drinking water wells.

“One hundred million gallons sounds like a huge number and I think FPL should be paying a significant penalty for getting that much extra water,” said Drew Martin, a conservation chair for the Sierra Club in Loxahatchee.

The temporary permit expires on Oct. 15, the historic end of the wet season. It only allows FPL to take water from the canal, which would normally be discharged into the bay, above amounts reserved as part of Everglades restoration work. But critics Thursday demanded that FPL disclose its plan for a permanent solution. The utility has also been given permission to build two additional reactors at the plant.

Board member Sandy Batchelor urged the district staff to work with park officials and environmental groups to study the issue. “I would deeply appreciate varying points of view,” she said.