Environment

Cabinet approves FPL’s plan to pump aquifer water into Turkey Point cooling canals

An airboat, captained by Bob Bertelson, land utilization supervisor at the FPL’s Turkey Point power plant, maneuvers down one of the many, shallow, outgoing cooling canals at the plant on Monday, March 28, 2016.
An airboat, captained by Bob Bertelson, land utilization supervisor at the FPL’s Turkey Point power plant, maneuvers down one of the many, shallow, outgoing cooling canals at the plant on Monday, March 28, 2016. emichot@miamiherald.com

Gov Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet approved Florida Power & Light’s request to make modifications to its Turkey Point nuclear plant that the utility said will reduce its role in contributing to nearby saltwater intrusion problems.

Under the plan, FPL will pump 14 million gallons daily from the deep Floridan aquifer into the cooling canals at the plant near Homestead to better control water temperature and salinity.

“It will reduce the rate of salt water intrusion,” said Mike Sole, FPL’s vice president.

The decision comes about 18 months after FPL first started working to improve conditions in its aging canals by adding water from a nearby canal and the Floridan aquifer, which lies beneath the Biscayne aquifer that provides drinking water for the region.

After the utility applied for permits to pump the additional water, Tropical Audubon and Atlantic Civil, a rock mining company which operates a mine just west of the canals, sued. Both argued that adding water alone would not solve a spreading underground saltwater plume and that taking water from the canal could set a bad precedent for water intended for Biscayne Bay as part of Everglades restoration efforts.

In December, an administrative judge sided with FPL, while at the same time chastising the state for crafting a weak management agreement, called an administrative order, to oversee the canals.

While the utility has won an extension to a permit to continue using water water from a nearby canal — up to 100 million gallons a day — officials say approval of the Floridan water will ultimately help them ease up on using surface water.

“We lost the better part of a year — a year in which we would have further improved the salinity levels of the canal system, and been much farther along in the effort to improve overall conditions,” FPL president and CEO Eric Silagy said in a statement. “We are committed to [removing] the hypersaline plume to ensure we pose no future threat to drinking water sources in the decades to come.”

The Cabinet’s approval came despite further objections from Atlantic Civil.

Scott and the Cabinet said they could not impose any new conditions on FPL because of the narrow legal window they were operating in based on a recommended order from the administrative judge. Attorney General Pam Bondi said Atlantic Civil’s arguments were compelling, but legally the state could not impose the conditions wanted by the company.

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Jeremy Wallace contributed from Tallabassee; Miami Herald reporter Jenny Staletovich contributed from Miami.

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