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Monroe County Residents Worried About Water Quality Want Miami-Dade To Go Slowly On Deal With FPL

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Emily Michot, Miami Herald
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FPL wants to use treated wastewater to help freshen aging cooling canals that have created a massive underground saltwater plume. Environmentalists warn the wastewater needs to be treated to higher standards.

A vote by Miami-Dade commissioners this week is causing concern among Monroe County residents and environmental advocates who say a collaboration between Miami-Dade and Florida Power & Light is developing too quickly.

Miami-Dade commissioners voted Tuesday to work with FPL on developing a plan to use treated wastewater to cool nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point power plant. Environmental advocates and the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority support the idea of recycling wastewater, but want assurance the plan will not exacerbate saltwater pushing inland toward wells that supply fresh water for much of Monroe County.

"In the Keys, we're probably the closest neighbor to FPL," said Bonnie Rippinghille, a Key Largo resident who attended Tuesday's commission meeting. "We're very concerned."

The Keys wells, located in South Miami-Dade, are at risk of becoming saltier because of sea-level rise and leaks of hot, salty water from cooling canals at the Turkey Point plant -- a problem for which FPL is currently working on a $200 million cleanup.

The treated wastewater plan is considered a potential win-win for the county and the utility because it would help cool the reactors and also help Miami-Dade meet a state requirement to recycle 60 percent of its wastewater by 2025.

But environmentalists and Keys residents and officials want assurance the collaboration between Miami-Dade and FPL will include measures to prevent the movement of saltwater toward the wellfield.

"It has to be clean wastewater -- wastewater that’s not going to pollute the aquifer and also pollute Biscayne Bay," Rippinghille said. She and others concerned about effects on the Keys' water supply also said they'd like FPL to replace its leaky cooling canals with new cooling towers, which are more widely used by nuclear power providers and would likely be less prone to seepage.

Speaking to commissioners at Tuesday's meeting, an FPL spokesman said the cooling towers would not be a cost-effective solution to the leakage problem. FPL Vice President Mike Sole also said it doesn't make sense to use "boutique water" to cool the nuclear reactors.

It remains unclear what water quality standards the treated wastewater would have to meet.

Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, the only commissioner who voted against Tuesday's resolution, said she's not formally supporting the collaboration "for now" because she thinks the county and the utility needs to spend more time resolving water quality standards and the canal-versus-cooling tower question before moving ahead.

"What's the rush?" she asked. Noting that wastewater treated as part of the collaboration could be used for Everglades restoration, she added, "Why can’t we have enough time and enough space to really explore those opportunities?"

The agenda item was not open to public comment, but outside the commission chambers, Laura Reynolds of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said she'd like Miami-Dade commissioners to delve into more details before moving forward.

"What we need is for the commission to understand this complex issue and say look, FPL, we need a comprehensive fix," she said.