Days after issuing a controversial new plan for managing troubled cooling canals at Turkey Point, state environmental officials on Monday moved quickly to hammer out a fix to stop the spread of underground saltwater threatening nearby drinking water supplies.
In a notice to Florida Power & Light officials, the Department of Environmental Protection gave the utility 21 days to provide any information about how the 40-year-old canals have seeped into the Biscayne aquifer and enter negotiations to come up with a clean-up plan. If the two sides fail to agree on a fix, the agency may come up with its own measures in 60 days.
DEP Water Resource Management Director Frederick Aschauer also warned FPL that Miami-Dade County reports confirming the canals have leaked into Biscayne Bay may violate state water quality standards. In a separate notice, Aschauer gave FPL 15 days to arrange a meeting to discuss how to address canal water in Biscayne Bay.
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The two notices come as evidence of the canals’ troubled history grows. After DEP signed off on a management plan in December 2014, critics including rock miner Steve Torcise and Tropical Audubon said state regulators did too little to address the growing plume and challenged it. An administrative judge in February agreed and ordered DEP to redo the plan.
Last week, the Miami Herald reported that FPL knew about super salty canal water pushing inland since at least 2010 when it conducted its on in-house study on how to address the plan. The study found the front was moving at about 500 feet a year.
In addition to the cooling canals, FPL is also facing challenges over plans to build two new reactors at the plant. Last week, a Florida appeals court rejected an approval of two massive power lines needed for the reactors by Gov. Rick Scott and the cabinet, which oversee nuclear reactors as the state’s Siting Board.
In Monday’s order, DEP concluded that the 5,900 acres of canals have contributed to the inland spread of saltwater and have asked for any studies FPL conducted on the spread of super salty water along with any plans for cleaning it up.
But focusing on the hypersaline water and not addressing the edge of the salt front may not fix the problem, said engineer Ed Swakon, who Torcise hired to investigate the plume because it also threatens mining operations. Hypersaline water has spread just two miles from the plant, while the salt front extends nearly four miles.
It’s the western edge that’s consuming the aquifer. It’s the one pushing out in front and taking potable water and making it non-potable.
EAS engineer Ed Swakon
“It’s the western edge that’s consuming the aquifer. It’s the one pushing out in front and taking potable water and making it non-potable,” he said. “We want the movement to the west stopped.”
Problems, which escalated over the summer of 2014 when high temperatures forced the plant twice to power down FPL’s two nuclear reactors, have also caught the attention of state lawmakers. South Florida lawmakers have called for a joint meeting of senate committees for public utilities and environmental matters.
“Changes occurring in Biscayne Bay and the Biscayne Aquifer suggest that legislative scrutiny of the cooling pools and their impact on the water supply of those in Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys is warranted,” Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who called for the meeting, said in a statement.
The meeting begins at 4 p.m. Friday at Miami Dade College’s Homestead campus.