What is Turkey Point?

'Turkey Point' is a power plant is owned by Florida Power & Light (FPL) and was first commissioned in the early 1970s. The plant includes a 5,900 acre network of unlined canals called the Cooling Canal System. This system is responsible for removing excess heat from power plant operations and then returning it to the system where it’s cooled through evaporation. Subsequently, this process causes an increased concentration of chemicals within the cooling system. The Cooling Canal System is a “closed loop” system so it’s not connected to any adjoining surface waters, but the porous subterranean geology of the Biscayne Aquifer allows for water from the cooling system to leak beyond the bounds of Turkey Point.

Initially, in 1973, the salinity levels in Turkey Point’s Cooling Canal System were less than 30 practical salinity units; a number similar to that of Biscayne Bay. A practical salinity unit is used to describe the concentration of dissolved salts in water. Yet by 2014, salinity levels in the Cooling Canal System reached a high of more than 100 practical salinity units, roughly three times that of Biscayne Bay. Additionally, water temperature in the Cooling System had surpassed the federal operating criteria of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, reaching nearly 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Why Should I Care?

This issue has an immense impact on Biscayne Bay. What is called a hyper-saline plume of Cooling Canal System water has escaped the boundaries of the Turkey Point property. Eventually on October 2, 2015, the Division of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) issued FPL a Notice of Violation of County water quality standards due to chloride found in groundwater outside the Cooling System.

After additional surface water monitoring stations necessitated by one of the permits were installed in an area adjacent to the Cooling System in surface waters tidally connected to Biscayne Bay, new data was discovered. The data indicated that concentration levels of nutrients such as phosphorus and ammonia began to increase and that a record high water stage of the Cooling Canal System can be expected to cause increased water leakage from the Cooling System into surrounding ground and possibly surface waters. A tritium analysis was also conducted. Tritium is an isotope of Hydrogen which is usually associated with the operation of nuclear power plants. While the results were stratified with water quality getting worse with depth, they were still at each level determining higher concentrations of tritium than background levels typical for Biscayne Bay, which a Miami-Dade report considers “the most compelling evidence that water originating from the Cooling Canal System is reaching these tidal surface waters connected to Biscayne Bay.”

 

What Does This Mean?

In late April of 2016, The Department of Environmental Protection notified FPL of potentially threatening nearby drinking water supplies. Meanwhile, records show that FPL had been warned and must have known since at least 2010, when they conducted their own study. Many Environmentalists have concluded that attempts being made to remedy the problem are just band-aids and not significantly dealing with the issue.

It seems near unanimous that adding fresh water to the canals will be the best solution for alleviating the canals but a negative aspect of this plan is that it will not prevent the plume from migrating Westward, although neither would any of the other proposed solutions. Regardless, University of Miami Hydrologist David Chin has said that "the (freshwater addition) doesn’t alleviate the problem because evaporation rates exceed natural rainfall and it may also increase the pressure on the saltwater plume causing it to expand further.” In light of this, we should insist upon another review as there’s evidence for the freshwater addition doing more harm than good.