Miami-Dade commission should protect our resources, speed up clean-up of FPL pollution plume

The FPL nuclear energy plant at Turkey Point is trying to strike a deal with Miami-Dade to use reclaimed wastewater to refresh the canals.
The FPL nuclear energy plant at Turkey Point is trying to strike a deal with Miami-Dade to use reclaimed wastewater to refresh the canals. Emily Michot

At the last Miami-Dade Commission Chairman’s Policy Committee meeting, the majority of our county commissioners changed their position and are now sponsors of the Joint Partnership Agreement with Florida Power & Light, even though there were many misstatements in the presentation by the Mayor Carlos Gimenez and FPL and the public were not allowed to speak.

I would like to correct the record and explain our side on this environmental issue that will impact us all with a simple Q & A:

Four decades ago, the first Earth Day taught us that “The Solution to Pollution is not Dilution” – simply adding more volume to the size of the pollution plume FPL has created over 40 years of operation at Turkey Point is not the answer and will only slow the remediation plan already underway by creating more contaminated water to dispose of.

Why do the commissioners believe this will speed clean up? Because FPL said so?

Many agree it is beneficial to recycle Miami-Dade’s waste water, and it is only practical that the largest water user in South Florida, FPL’s Turkey Point facility, be partly responsible for making that happen. The proposal on the table is certainly encouraging because it will free up tens of millions of gallons of water every day that FPL has been using unpermitted for electricity generation at Turkey Point, and instead that water can naturally enter Biscayne Bay and keep the salinity closer to levels needed to support fish and wildlife.

But caution is needed. Miami-Dade must remain the regulator. Why would the county tacitly give FPL another 20-year license extension to operate this open industrial sewer unless real progress has been shown? To date that plume has not retracted an inch. In fact, the plume has now contaminated the nearby L-31E Canal which discharges directly into Biscayne Bay.

Let us not forget that the county is currently battling with FPL to enter into a Corrective Action Plan as part of the Consent Agreement to clean up the nutrient pollution that is leaking into Biscayne Bay. FPL continues to claim that the pollution from this industrial waste facility is not theirs and they should not have to clean it up, even though samples contain elevated levels of tritium. If reuse water is used by FPL, the county must ensure the water is cleaned up to the highest possible standards so as to not add to the current nutrient pollution problem. Anything that goes into the cooling canals will get concentrated by evaporating away the freshwater and leaving behind contaminants, and then those contaminants are forced into the aquifer and surrounding environment.

Why would the county allow a company to pay for cleanup of our waste water for another 35 years of pollution?

The Turkey Point cooling canals were built on porous limestone, and if their operation continues they will continue to exchange the polluted industrial waste water into the surrounding environment. That includes continuing to pollute the region’s sole source aquifer and Biscayne National Park.

The county unanimously passed a July 2016 resolution requiring that theTurkey Point cooling canal system be decommissioned by 2033. However, this joint partnership agreement and the discussion at the last committee meeting is in direct conflict with the 2016 resolution. It now appears that there will never be cooling technology improvements, such as the common-sense installation of cooling towers, despite FPL’s proposal to run the plant an additional twenty years, into the early 2050s.

If FPL is really serious about the success of its remediation plan, it will look at making changes to the cooling canals. Eliminating the seepage that continues to feed the plume would increase the effectiveness of the recovery wells three-fold.

This is why we, as plaintiffs in a federal Clean Water Act suit, are pushing for FPL to replace the failing canals with best practice cooling towers as soon as possible. As long as the failing cooling canals remain in operation and are receiving hot water from the nuclear reactors, seepage out of the canals works against efforts to protect the region’s freshwater supply and pollutes Biscayne Bay.

The county should require a comprehensive solution and maintain the position that FPL using reuse water at Turkey Point is only one step in the necessary abatement, remediation and mitigation process.

The county has a responsibility first to protect its citizens and our environmental resources, not to protect FPL. Any agreement with FPL should have the required details included up front to provide assurance to everyone that this is a truly a “win-win” partnership and benefits both Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

The final vote on this issue is April 10. We should ask the commission to amend the Partnership Agreement to better protect our resources and to speed up the cleanup of FPL’s pollution plume by requiring a comprehensive fix that includes a technology upgrade.

Laura Reynolds wrote this article on behalf Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.