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By Laura Reynolds, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and ORCA consultant with contribution from George Cavros, SACE Florida Energy Policy Attorney

Water is the lifeblood of south Florida. While its millions of residents are surrounded by salt water, our area is also home to one of the most prolific drinking aquifers in the world - the Biscayne Aquifer.  As you may already know, FPL’s decades of negligence in addressing major issues with the failing Turkey Point cooling canal system (CCS) threatens this aquifer and our drinking water. And now, to rub salt in the wound (or should we say in the aquifer), the utility wants the customers to pay for the cleanup.
Since 1978, FPL’s longtime consultant, Dames and Moore, have reported a significant and increasing salinity contribution from the CCS moving westward of the Turkey Point boundary in the Biscayne Aquifer. The plume is now about 10 miles from the drinking water wells of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority. What did FPL do with the over four decades of data indicating a growing hypersaline plume caused by the CCS and threatening our drinking water? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Local governments have invested significant resources in tracking and fighting a saltwater intrusion line moving westward, and migrating into drinking water resources. Federal, state and local governments have laws and regulations in place to protect those resources; However, FPL violated them.
In fact, the company failed to take any action to address the impacts of the failing cooling canals on the Biscayne drinking water aquifer until 2013 - And only did so, when the temperature and salinity spiked in the CCS as state regulators met with FPL for a consultation. Ultimately, the company was charged with violating state water quality standards, and entered into agreements to clean up the mess it created.
To pay for the mandatory cleanup, FPL made a request to the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) for customers to pay for the cleanup. This was vigorously opposed by the Office of Public Counsel (OPC), Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), and industrial users. The parties argued that FPL knew the operation of the CSS was causing an underground hyper-saline plume growing in concentration and size miles beyond the Turkey Point boundary. Over 800 FPL customers filed letters with the Commission opposing cost recovery for FPL's mistakes on the backs of customers. Unfortunately, we are sad to report that in December the Commission approved the company's request despite FPL’s erroneous negligence.

Clean Water Act Case Moves Forward

Some positive developments have occurred to protect our region from FPL’s Turkey Point mess. Around the same time as the Commission decision, Southern District Judge Darrin Gayles denied FPL’s motion to dismiss a federal citizen-suit case against FPL by SACE, Tropical Audubon and Friends of the Everglades. The judge has issued a scheduling order and the trial is now set for March of 2019.

The groups state in their complaint that FPL has violated and continues to violate its federal discharge permit for Turkey Point by unauthorized discharges of pollutants, including, but not limited to, excess salinity, phosphorus, ammonia, total nitrogen, and radioactive tritium, into waters of the United States in Biscayne Bay. Additionally, FPL has violated its permit by discharges of hypersaline water contaminated with radioactive tritium and other pollutants into ground water, threatening the water supply for Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys.  Graphs of two specific monitoring locations within Biscayne Bay for Chlorophyll a, Nitrogen and Phosphorus within Biscayne Bay can be viewed here, these demonstrate there are continued violations from FPL’s Turkey Point CCS since the environmental groups filed their lawsuit in July of 2016. 

Biscayne Bay is the largest estuary on the coast of southeast Florida and is contiguous with the southern Florida Everglades and Florida Bay. It encompasses a marine ecosystem that totals approximately 428 square miles. Its drainage area is 938 square miles, of which 350 are freshwater and coastal wetlands in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties. It is home to Biscayne National Park, the largest marine park in the national park system. Not only is it a source for food, transportation, and commerce, it also offers boundless opportunities for recreation, such as boating, fishing, swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving.

Because Biscayne Bay has been polluted for decades by the operations of Turkey Point’s CCS and none of the current remedies offered by agencies will offer abatement of the source of this pollution, the Plaintiffs in this case have requested that the Court find FPL in violation of the Clean Water Act, and to impose civil penalties and support a remedy that stops further unauthorized discharges from Turkey Point. SACE supports the installation of mechanical draft cooling towers as a permanent technological solution to the CCS violations. In fact, SACE commissioned a report on the feasibility of the cooling towers. The take-away is that the cooling towers are economically feasible – in fact they are routinely used at other coal and nuclear power plants here in the U.S. and around the world. Short of retiring the reactor units, cooling towers are the only solution that permanently eliminates the source of continuing pollution of groundwater.

Stay tuned on the continuing developments in the Clean Water Act challenge as SACE continues to push FPL to make responsible energy choices that protect consumers’ wallets and preserve our shared critical water resources.

The plaintiffs listed below are fighting this battle on your behalf, please consider sending in a donation earmarked to keep holding FPL accountable for updating their technology and doing better to protect our valuable natural resources:

Founded in 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy promotes responsible energy choices that work to address the impacts of Global Climate Change and ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at www.cleanenergy.org.

Founded in 1947, Tropical Audubon Society works to conserve and restore natural South Florida ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats through advocacy and education for the benefit of biological diversity and humanity itself. Learn more at www.tropicalaudubon.org.

Founded in 1969, Friends of the Everglades compels government agencies to comply with existing environmental laws, encourages politicians to recognize the long consequences of their actions and spreads awareness of the importance of the Everglades to the South Florida ecosystem. Learn more at www.everglades.org.

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