Citizen groups file federal Clean Water Act lawsuit against FPL for ongoing pollution at Biscayne Bay

Guest Blog | July 13, 2016 | Press Releases

Contact: Sarah Gilliam, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, 865-235-1448, [email protected]

Citizen groups file federal Clean Water Act lawsuit against FPL for ongoing pollution at Biscayne Bay

Advocates believe FPL and State Agencies have failed to stop contamination from Turkey Point’s cooling canals system and demand necessary clean up

[Please note: an amended complaint was filed on October 11, 2016]

Miami, Fla. (July 13, 2016) – Late yesterday, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and Tropical Audubon Society (TAS) filed a citizen lawsuit against Florida Power and Light (FPL) under the Clean Water Act (CWA) after an extensive review of evidence documenting discharges from the Turkey Point Power Plant cooling canal system into Florida surface and ground waters. The water-intensive Turkey Point site includes two nuclear reactors and is located in Miami-Dade County near Homestead, about 25 miles south of downtown Miami. The facility is one of Florida’s biggest daily water users and discharges at least 600,000 pounds of salt and other contaminants directly into the Biscayne Aquifer on a daily basis through its antiquated cooling canal system. In March, the two organizations issued a 60-day notice of intent to file a citizen lawsuit. Today SACE and TAS, together with Friends of the Everglades, have also served a supplemental 60-day notice which will allow Friends of the Everglades to join the lawsuit at the end of the 60 days and which includes additional violations of the CWA that have been documented since March.

Contaminated water leaking from FPL’s failing cooling canal system at Turkey Point is polluting the Biscayne Aquifer, a sole source aquifer that provides drinking water to more than 3 million people in the region and to the neighboring Biscayne National Park. In addition, there is clear evidence of contamination of the surface waters of Biscayne National Park caused by discharges from the cooling canal system. This has created the necessity for this citizen suit under the Federal Clean Water Act. Pollution has been documented since 2010 in lower levels, but a March study from the Miami-Dade County Division of Environmental Resource Management (DERM) and a study by the University of Miami completed in May have clearly shown the pollution’s pathway and origin and how additional contaminants were flushed into the surrounding environment by the actions of FPL.

These reports show Turkey Point’s failing cooling canal system is effectively an “open industrial sewer” with discharges that contains a slew of pollutants including ammonia, phosphorus, total nitrogen, high salinity levels and tritium. Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen produced by nuclear reactors during routine operations, is often found as a groundwater contaminant at nuclear plants. Elevated levels of radioactive tritium have been documented in both surface and groundwater outside the Turkey Point complex. This new body of information confirms that a growing plume of hyper-saline water and other pollutants have migrated in all directions, leading to a consistent violation of water quality standards. Because tritium is only being produced within the Turkey Point nuclear reactors, its presence provides undeniable evidence that these other contaminants are also coming from the Turkey Point power complex.

Despite years of data proving that FPL has violated its operating permits, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) continues to allow FPL to operate on an expired permit at Turkey Point and has failed to take the necessary actions to protect Biscayne Bay from ongoing leaks from the cooling canal system. This is why citizens have felt compelled to file a suit under the Clean Water Act, as stated in the filing:

This is a citizen suit, brought the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (“SACE”) and Tropical Audubon Society Incorporated (“TAS”), pursuant to Section 505(a)(1) of the federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”), 33 U.S.C. § 1365(a)(1), to address violations of the CWA by Defendant Florida Power & Light Company (“FPL”) resulting from the discharge of pollutants from FPL’s Turkey Point Power Plant near Homestead, Florida, into the protected waters of Biscayne Bay and to ground water, including the Biscayne Aquifer, in violation of the terms of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) Permit No. FL0001562 (“NPDES Permit”) and the CWA.

FPL has violated and continues to violate its NPDES Permit by unauthorized discharges of pollutants, including, but not limited to, excess salinity, phosphorus, ammonia, TKN (Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen – a measurement of nitrogen levels), total nitrogen, and radioactive tritium, into waters of the United States in Biscayne Bay. Additionally, FPL has violated its NPDES Permit by discharges of hypersaline water contaminated with radioactive tritium into ground water, threatening the water supply for Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys. FPL has also violated the CWA by causing violations of water quality standards in Biscayne Bay, which is protected from degradation as Outstanding National Resource and Outstanding Florida Waters.

Section 301(a) of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a), prohibits the discharge of pollutants from a point source into waters of the United States unless the discharge is in compliance with various enumerated sections of the Act. Among other things, Section 301(a) prohibits such discharges not authorized by, or in violation of the terms of, an NPDES permit issued pursuant to Section 402 of the Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1342. Each violation of the permit, and each discharge that is not authorized by the permit, is a violation of the CWA and is enforceable under 33 U.S.C. § 1365(a).

“After careful review of the information that has come to light and FPL’s ‘proposed remedies’ we feel forced to file this lawsuit which is a vote of no confidence that the proper actions are being taken to protect public health, the environment and the outstanding waters of Biscayne National Park,” said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “We believe our case will show there is compelling evidence that FPL has repeatedly violated the Clean Water Act by operating an open industrial sewer leading to historic and ongoing discharges to the surface waters of Biscayne Bay. These contaminants impact water quality and public health and safety, and FPL needs to take aggressive action to address the ongoing pollution and repair the damage that has been done.”

Since 2010, extensive documentation has confirmed that contaminated water from FPL’s network of unlined, porous cooling canals, has been illegally discharged into both the surface waters of Biscayne Bay and the groundwaters with a direct connection to the aquifer. This massive cooling canal system is two miles wide by five miles long and is the only system of its type in the world.

“Tropical Audubon has a long history of protecting the environment and wildlife around the greater Miami area, including Biscayne Bay,” said Joe Barros, president of Tropical Audubon Society. “We have joined SACE in this lawsuit because we believe FPL’s proposed actions and actions taken by state regulators are inadequate to provide the proper level of protection.”

In June, FPL entered into a consent agreement with Florida’s DEP. After careful review, the citizen groups determined that the consent decree is inadequate.

“The cooling canal system is not working and hasn’t been for decades. It needs to be replaced now to offer real abatement of the salt and thermal loading into this fragile area,” said Laura Reynolds, consultant with for SACE and longtime Everglades Coalition member. “Miami area residents will not accept an open industrial sewer like the Turkey Point cooling canals causing an ever-expanding plume of contaminants in the aquifer that supplies our drinking water, nor will we accept continued pollution of our national parks.”

This problem was initially caused when FPL constructed their poorly designed, cooling system and made the situation worse when the utility “uprated” their nuclear reactors using advanced cost recovery dollars to increase energy production at the facility as mentioned in the lawsuit:

The cooling canal system is unlined and underlain by porous limestone geology, including the Biscayne Aquifer. The contaminated water in the cooling canal system has for many years discharged, and continues to discharge, from the cooling canal system into Biscayne Bay through a direct hydrologic connection between the cooling canal system and the navigable waters of Biscayne Bay.

In 2012 and 2013, the two nuclear generators were ‘uprated’ to increase power production, resulting in a much higher than predicted increase in the temperature and salinity of the water in the cooling canal system.

As a result of the higher temperature and salinity in the cooling canal system, FPL began adding up to 100 million gallons per day of fresh water to the cooling canal system in 2014. The addition of this fresh water further pushed pollutants from the cooling canal system into the ground water and into Biscayne Bay.

“Citizens of Florida need to recognize that protecting our health and water quality is not a passive exercise,” said Alan Farago, conservation chair of Friends of the Everglades. “With these threats to people and natural resources so clearly visible, if we don’t stand up now, when? We hope federal law can protect us when the state of Florida won’t.”

“FPL’s cooling canal system at Turkey Point is a failed experiment and the company should be required to use the best available technology to stop adding to the damage they have already done,” said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director for SACE. “Operating an open industrial sewer effectively bordered by two national parks and highly protected waters requires the highest standards and strong regulatory oversight. Anything less is unacceptable and that’s why we had to take action.”

[Please note: an amended complaint was filed on October 11, 2016]


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

Founded in 1967, Tropical Audubon Society endeavors 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

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