Local government, FPL fight over water for Turkey Point canals

Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami stepped into the fray over Florida Power & Light’s problem-plagued Turkey Point cooling canals this week, arguing that the aging system is stealing too much water from Everglades restoration and leaving behind a trail of salt threatening drinking water supplies.

In petitions filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the two governments also contend the new state plan to manage the canals violates both water regulations and rules for managing nuclear power plants.

The plan “purports to order FPL to take certain actions to fix its cooling canal system, but DEP’s ‘remedy’ would, at best, allow those water quality violations to continue indefinitely,” the county’s petition said.

By adding fresher water to increasingly hot and salty canals rather than replacing the canal water, FPL risks worsening conditions for the entire area, according to the petitions by the governments, Tropical Audubon and rock mining company Atlantic Civil.

“If they don’t flush out all this stuff, it’s not going to operate properly. And we’re saying no way are you going to flush out this pollution to our wellfields and Biscayne Bay,” said Tropical Audubon executive director Laura Reynolds. “They [expanded] their power plant and went too far.”

FPL said it is trying to fix problems and accused the groups of “throwing up roadblocks that do absolutely nothing to solve the problem,” said spokesman Greg Brostowicz. “We see this as... procedural maneuvers, or a delay tactic, and they don’t benefit FPL customers, citizens or the environment in any way.”

The canals, a 168-mile-long loop, were built in 1970 to act as a radiator for the plant’s two nuclear reactors and licensed as an industrial wastewater facility. Canal water was supposed to stay put, even after the plant expanded in 2009. But in August 2013, the South Florida Water Management District found the canal water — heavier and saltier than nearby seawater — had spread underground, threatening inland wellfields. The district ordered FPL to come up with a plan to stop the spread.

The utility’s solution was to start pumping up to 14 million gallons of water daily from the Florida aquifer and nearby canals into the cooling system.

But over the summer, temperatures soared and conditions worsened: a festering algae bloom spread and the canal water heated up, routinely climbing above 100 degrees. At 104 degrees, the nuclear units must power down. FPL made an emergency request to draw up to 100 million gallons a day to freshen the system.

In December, when DEP approved the new management plan two days before Christmas, local officials say they were caught off-guard.

The water management district, which has long monitored conditions and found fault with FPL’s calculations for fixing the advancing underground saltwater plume, had been removed from the plan and stripped of oversight. Tropical Audubon, which objects to the removal, argued the move means the district will never get to weigh in on the calculations. The county contends the state does not have the authority to “unilaterally” eliminate regulatory agencies.

DEP’s office of general counsel is now reviewing the petitions to determine whether they merit a hearing, said spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller. If they don’t pass muster, the groups will get one more shot at making their case.