Environment

Florida cites FPL for Turkey Point cooling canal violations

The cooling canals of Turkey Point

Matt Raffenberg, FPL's environmental services director, talks about how FPL is working on ways to better control water temperature and salinity in the 39 cooling canals at the Turkey Point power plant in 2016
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Matt Raffenberg, FPL's environmental services director, talks about how FPL is working on ways to better control water temperature and salinity in the 39 cooling canals at the Turkey Point power plant in 2016

Days after issuing a controversial plan for managing the troubled cooling canal system at Turkey Point, state environmental officials have cited Florida Power & Light for threatening nearby drinking water supplies and ordered the utility to hammer out a fix to stop the spread of an underground plume of saltwater.

In a notice to FPL officials Monday, 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 over the years and enter negotiations to come up with a clean-up plan. If the two sides fail to agree, the agency may come up with its own measures in 60 days, the notice said.

DEP Water Resource Management Director Frederick Aschauer also warned FPL that a new problem — in March Miami-Dade County detected canal water in Biscayne Bay — may be violating other state laws, for which the utility may be liable for damages. Aschauer gave FPL 15 days to set up a meeting.

500 feet per yearThe pace of movement of the saltwater front west of the cooling canals

The two notices come years late for critics, who say there has long been compelling evidence that the massive one-of-a-kind cooling canal system was degrading water quality far beyond the borders of the nuclear power plant along southern Biscayne Bay.

After DEP signed off on a December 2014 uprating project that expanded power output from the plant’s twin reactors, rock miner Steve Torcise, Tropical Audubon and neighboring cities including Miami sued, saying state regulators did too little to address a growing underground plume that has pushed saltwater inland about four miles. An administrative judge in February agreed, faulting DEP for not citing the agency for violations and ordering state officials 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 own in-house study. The study found adding fresh water alone, a fix FPL sought repeatedly as canals grew hotter after the expansion, would likely worsen the plume.

Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL, defends the company's environmental record in a recent meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board

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 by Gov. Rick Scott and the cabinet of two massive transmission lines. The lines, needed to carry additional power, would run north from the plant along Dixie Highway to Coconut Grove, through South Miami, Pinecrest and Miami. Appellate judges sided with the cities, who fought to have the lines buried and argued they violated local development codes.

In Monday’s order, DEP concluded that the 5,900-acre network of canals has contributed to the inland spread of saltwater and have asked for any studies FPL conducted along with any plans for cleaning it up. Spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller on Wednesday could not specifically say how far back the agency was looking, but said the request was intended to ensure DEP has “access to the work already conducted by FPL.”

As scrutiny has increased, FPL officials went on the defensive, writing editorials and meeting repeatedly with local agencies. On Wednesday, officials said the utility is working quickly to address the problems and already making progress.

We take our responsibility to manage the cooling canal system very seriously.

Mike Sole, FPL’s vice president of governmental affairs who served as DEP’s secretary from 2006 to 2010

“We take our responsibility to manage the cooling canal system very seriously,” said Mike Sole, FPL’s vice president of governmental affairs who served as DEP’s secretary from 2006 to 2010.

A well dug east of the canals to remove salty water with elevated levels of ammonia and phosphorus that could harm marine life has already helped return water to normal bay conditions in two of four locations, Sole said. FPL also is considering filling one canal at Turtle Point and still looking at options at a second site.

The utility, which is also under orders to come up with a clean-up plan for Miami-Dade County by May 15, is nearly done modeling a system of “extraction wells” to the west of the canals, he said. The wells would remove salty water and pump it into a 3,000-foot deep injection well away from drinking water supplies. Over time, as the utility also adds up to 14 million gallons of day of brackish water from the Floridan aquifer, the super salty plume should shrink and stop pushing the saltwater front west, he said.

“The challenge we’ve had over the 40-year operation is because it’s a closed loop….[the canals were] slowly becoming more and more hypersaline and it is that hypersalinity that is the focus we need to correct and fix to insure continued safe operation,” he said.

But focusing on the hypersaline water and not addressing the forward edge of the front may not fix the problem fast enough, 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.

Ed Swakon, president of EAS Engineering

“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 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.

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