What is threatening Biscayne and Everglades National Parks and South Florida’s Drinking Water?

This blog was written by Sara Barczak, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | March 3, 2016 | Energy Policy, Nuclear

UPDATE: New analysis released on March 7, 2016, just prior to the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners meeting on March 8, confirms contamination of Biscayne Aquifer and Biscayne National Park by Turkey Point’s cooling canal system. Read our press release here.

Recent news has brought further attention to what is causing contamination of the beautiful and beloved Biscayne National Park and South Florida’s main drinking water resource, the Biscayne Aquifer, which is a “sole source,” federally-designated aquifer that serves over 3 million people.

The culprit? FPL’s existing Turkey Point power facility (historically, five separate generating units using different fuel sources; not all are currently operational).

This large complex is near Homestead, Florida about 25 miles from Miami and sandwiched between two internationally recognized treasures – the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. In particular, the two water-guzzling reactors at Turkey Point are causing and have experienced lots of problems. Not only is Turkey Point one of Florida’s biggest daily water users, but it also releases approximately 600,000 pounds of salt and other contaminants directly into the Biscayne Aquifer on a daily basis. Current operations pose a significant threat to the health of Biscayne National Park because of leaching pollution from Turkey Point’s convoluted Cooling Canal System into the surface waters of the park.

Due to the inherent inefficiencies with this cooling system and the onset of warmer temperatures of the water in the canals and the temperature of the air cooling the canal water as outlined by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the existing reactors have a hard time even operating within the 100 F cooling water temperature limits after increasing the reactors’ generating capacity in 2012. FPL had to get expedited approval from federal regulators to up the limit to 104 F. And even with these issues, FPL is shockingly pursuing two more extremely expensive reactors at this wholly unsuitable site.

Next Tuesday, March 8th, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners will meet to discuss recent data results prepared by the University of Miami (UM), which the Commission ordered, and the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management (DERM) staff analysis regarding discharges from Turkey Point’s sprawling Cooling Canal System (CCS) into South Florida’s drinking water source and Biscayne National Park. Together, this information documents contamination into Miami-Dade County’s water supply as well as into the adjacent national park.

Grant Miller’s recent article in Miami’s Community Newspapers summarizes the dire situation:

The danger posed by the plant’s current operation is twofold. First, the plant generates a plume of hypersaline water which degrades the aquifer and contributes to chloride pollution in the bay. Second, the Industrial Wastewater Cooling Canal System generates large amounts of ammonia and phosphorous, in addition to other contaminants that now have been found leaching out into the bay.

Finally, the vast amount of fresh water utilized by the plant conflicts with the goals of Everglades’ restoration and the needs of the county for drinking water.

Turkey Point requires massive amounts of water to cool down their reactors and utilizes a “once-through” cooling system that draws water from Biscayne Bay and runs it through a series of canals (seen in photo to the right). Using vast amount of fresh water to generate energy conflicts with the goals of Everglades’ restoration and is contaminating the local south Florida drinking water supply, as outlined by the Tropical Audubon Society.

In addition, when the water in the canal system is exposed to the heat of the turbine steam, much of it evaporates. The water taken from Biscayne Bay is brackish, meaning it contains some salt, and all that salt is left behind as well as many other contaminants from the plant operations. A plume of incredibly salty water is spilling out from the canal system and is estimated to reach up to 4 miles from the plant into Biscayne Bay to the east and the Biscayne aquifer in the west.

SACE has recently hired former Tropical Audubon executive director, Laura Reynolds, who has extensive knowledge about these problems to work with us as a consultant. We look forward to working with our partners in South Florida and all those concerned with addressing and correcting this unacceptable situation.

Stay tuned for a series of blogs on Turkey Point as we go into more detail about what is happening at the site.

We urge everyone to become more informed about this serious situation. There are many ways to get involved and take action right now:

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