Op-Ed

Gimenez’s deal with FPL should put residents’ water needs first

FPL has been under pressure to clean its cooling canals at FPL’s Turkey Point nuclear plant, seen here in 2016.
FPL has been under pressure to clean its cooling canals at FPL’s Turkey Point nuclear plant, seen here in 2016. Miami Herald

I was glad to learn that Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and FPL have agreed, in principle, to share the cost of a new cutting-edge wastewater treatment facility in South Dade. In exchange for supporting the project, FPL would be allowed to use the treated water at its Turkey Point power plants.

This potential partnership could be a tremendous opportunity, but the devil will be in the details.

I am also encouraged that the plan might scale up to provide super-treated water for recharging the Biscayne Aquifer, restoring wetlands and Biscayne Bay. However, I am concerned that under the mayor’s announced plan, FPL would seek to continue using the aging nuclear reactors, first put into service in 1972, for an unprecedented 80 years. The agreement also assumes that FPL would continue to rely on 7,000 acres of obsolete cooling canals. Because these canals have contaminated our aquifer, the county has forced FPL to clean up the damage, and with policies adopted by the County Commission, has urged the utility to end the use of cooling canals and switch to modern cooling towers. We should stick to that plan.

When I proposed exploration of alternatives for recycling wastewater in a resolution last year, I expected that we could go beyond merely meeting FPL’s needs and sharing costs. The “Plan B” report I ordered is overdue, therefore we do not know what other options might be available. I have been pressing to maximize available drinking water resources for the future, and this report could illuminate those new opportunities.

Now that we are actively exploring the more thorough cleaning process required for the discharge of water into the cooling canals, it is essential that we create a plan that goes beyond FPL’s needs.

Our environment and economy rely on access to clean drinking water, healthy oceans and wetlands. As Everglades restoration projects have stalled, the bay and wetlands have suffered. The mayor’s plan to clean wastewater to the highest level could be a great step forward. At its best, the county could meet state reuse goals; FPL could correct the damage done by the cooling canals; and natural waters could be restored to healthy levels to sustain people and the economy.

Serious questions remain, however. If the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves additional years of operation at the existing nuclear reactors and continued use of the precarious canal system, it could put our safety and health at risk. Failure to use the proposed wastewater treatment plan to meet larger environmental goals could endanger our environment in the future and the economy.

Additionally the mayor’s proposed plan with FPL would involve installing a solar power plant. Generating solar power on county property is a great move — it could reduce electric bills and help our climate, but how much of a benefit it would have for the county is not yet clear.

The County Commission adopted my resolution directing the mayor to explore all possible solar installation sites on county properties. While that report has also not yet come back, the intention was to determine how much power could be generated to meet the county’s own electricity needs. I want to ensure that any plan to go solar would provide for competition, create local jobs and be a good deal for residents. Pre-determining that FPL would install and operate these solar facilities may not allow us to fully realize all of those economic benefits.

Miami-Dade currently throws away more than 300 million gallons of water a day. Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the County to stop discharging treated waste into the ocean and to recycle 60% of our wastewater by 2025. We must find a solution to this problem, but we should take the time to consider every option. Instead of waiting for the results of an impact study that we paid for, the County is rushing to enter into an exclusive contract with FPL that meets the company’s needs but may fall short of what our community requires.

Fresh water — whether it’s clean or dirty — is a vital public asset; we can share it with corporations, but we should insist that Miami-Dade residents come first. Let’s ensure that all water re-use plans will benefit future generations.

Daniella Levine Cava represents District 8 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.

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