Let’s focus on the bigger problem…a plan that puts our wastewater to good use

2017-06-21 - Turkey Point - Print Resolution-min

A high-tech advanced water treatment plant, partially powered by solar power and battery storage, would treat reclaimed water for use at the Turkey Point power generation complex.

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Grant Miller, Publisher

As our community continues debating how to deal with top-of-mind issues like traffic and the economy, it’s easy to forget about the problems we can’t see. One of those problems has been quietly worsening for years, and every so often it comes back in front the County Commission’s agenda. I’m talking about what’s euphemistically referred to as “ocean outfall” – the daily pollution of the water off our shores.

Today, you, I and everyone else with a toilet in Miami-Dade County will flush more than 100 million gallons of partially treated sewage into the ocean.  This is not because of a spill, a leak or an accident. Nor is it the result of King tides, climate change or sea-level rise. What you may not realize is that this is water that we flush down the toilet or send down the pipes from our sinks daily. After being partially treated, the water ends up in the same ocean where we swim, the same ocean that draws millions of tourists to our beaches each year. Let that sink in for a minute.

This is how our local wastewater system was designed, and we haven’t gotten around to fixing it. The Florida Legislature, which is not known for having bipartisan tendencies, got together and unanimously passed legislation a decade ago to force us to clean up our act. Ten years and 365 billion gallons of pollution later, and we don’t have a sensible plan.

We already blew off the state’s original deadline. It would be shameful to delay any longer. To their credit, the hard-working folks at the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department have conducted extensive research and sought public input. And they’ve been trying for years to get the politicians to focus on the problem… to little avail.

But to the surprise of many who have resigned themselves to the notion that nothing will be done, Mayor Gimenez put the issue front and center in his State of the County address. Like me, the Mayor was troubled by the cooling canal mess at Turkey Point. It seemed like a no-brainer to ditch the canals and install cooling towers. Frustratingly, it turns out it’s not that simple.

It will take years to restore the canals to nature. They were built to be an industrial wastewater facility. And like our County’s sewage system, that type of mess doesn’t get fixed overnight. The Mayor is right when he says that cooling towers won’t clean up the canals. Spending God-knows-how-much on huge cooling towers would be a waste of time. And shutting down Turkey Point isn’t an option. It feeds millions of Miamians with carbon-free, relatively cheap power 24 hours a day. For those of you who believe in science, the science says we have to preserve the nuclear power we have if we want to have a chance at slowing climate change.

So I’m glad FPL is being forced to clean up the canals. That’s a necessity and it has to happen.

But what about the much bigger problem?  The Mayor’s idea to put the County’s water experts in a room with FPL’s engineers to come up with a solution was a smart play. The plan they sketched out has promise. It involves keeping Turkey Point’s nuclear reactors running with the same cooling canals but a different source of water. Instead of Turkey Point sucking the aquifer dry, let’s build a high-tech water treatment facility to clean our wastewater and reuse it at the plant. Keep the reactors humming, clean up the canals and, most importantly, protect our ocean.

Other proposed solutions to ocean outfall have been evaluated for years with no action, mainly because they’re too small and too expensive. The single largest, cheapest and most realistic way to fix our wastewater mess lies in a collaboration between FPL and the County.

We have an opportunity to solve a problem that impacts our quality of life. As we look ahead to our future, the proposed solution has promise for all of us in the County, and we cannot afford to look away or delay. The County Commission should keep that in mind when they vote on whether the County can move forward with FPL to develop a detailed plan. Say what you will, but there ain’t another option. Every single member of the County Commission should vote yes if they are being honest about what’s in front of us. Every day we delay means another 100 million gallons of toxins and human waste polluting the water that washes up on our beaches.


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8 Comments on "Let’s focus on the bigger problem…a plan that puts our wastewater to good use"

  1. I do have some questions: (1) How will the partially left-over waste in the cooling canals be kept from seeping into the ground and eventually the Bay? (2) Part of why the canals are destructive is that they feed hot water into the bay. Where is the hot waste-water canal water going to go? (3) Isn’t there something better to do with that heat than dissipate it into the environment? (4) Couldn’t the heat – like solar energy – be used to power cooling systems? (5) Is this “new” use for partially cleaned, partially dirty waste water a self-contained system? I don’t see how it can be since new waste water is created every day.

  2. Eric Tullberg PE | March 7, 2018 at 5:44 pm | Reply

    First the Turkey Point cooling canals were originally an open system that discharged water into lower Biscayne Bay. As that was problematic, they were closed. Now the problem is that the water evaporates, leaving salt behind ans so creates a hyper-saline plume. The problem with using heat from the power plant is that it is at such a low temperature. To produce power you must have an even lower temperature for the sink. You cannot power an ocean liner by making ice cubes (2nd law of themodynamics). The treated water will eventually be reinjected into the Floridian Aquifer, below the Biscayne which is what we drink from.

  3. Nuclear power is far more dangerous than climate change. We don’t need nuclear power. One only needs to look at past nuclear disasters to understand nuclear energy is unsafe. If you want to clean up the environment we must transition away from nuclear power towards clean and renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and others. We must not let a monopolistic corporation like FPL have control over our power supply or jeopardize public health and safety in the name of profit.

  4. The true solution that ends up being a win-win for the population and the environment is tertiary treatment of the effluent. Yes, the technology has long existed for turning second level treated effluent back into drinking water. The automatic response to this is it costs to much to build. Gee, we seem to have no problem extending debt into the future otherwise, this debt would eventually pay for itself when indeed South Florida becomes truly overpopulated and we have no clean water to drink.

  5. Karon Grunwell | March 8, 2018 at 7:36 am | Reply

    So the plan is to inject the water into the boulder field under our aquafer that supplies our drinking water. Are you aware the county is already injecting partially treated waste into this same aquafer? And the new Salmon farm out by Homestead Aviation is planning on injecting their waste water into this same aquafer? With all this extra water going into the boulder field, the next question is, where is it all going in reality? It has to displace something else. And daily pumping of thousands of gallons of waste water has to have some impact on the aquafer that we drink from. Most of the South end of the county is on well water & the water for Monroe County comes from wells in the south end of the county. I really don’t have confidence that FPL nor Miami Dade county will be able to properly manage this method of disposal of the poluted water.

  6. Harry Vordokas | March 8, 2018 at 9:10 am | Reply

    That might become a break-through solution, provided the cleaning the remaining waste in the cooling canals as well as of the “fresh” waste from the city is further developed and cleaned water is recycled. Wastewater can be cleaned to 100% and re-pumped into the aquifer or re-used for irrigation. The recovering of the remaining waste in the canals (e.g. by dredging, forward pumping to filtering and re-use) may allow the cleaning of the environmental hazard in the canals to a great extend in the course of some years. In the meantime, we may maintain the present nuclear capacity, but drastically further develop and promote the use of solar energy for residential and commercial use.

  7. The way I understand these cooling canals are a closed system to cool down the ocean water used to convert steam into condensate water in the condensers. This ocean water is cool down and and re used.
    it again . Is this water contaminated by human waste? Please explain that.

  8. It is a bit of a myth that wastewater can be cleaned 100%. Effluent from a treatment plant can be run through a reverse osmosis system yielding potable water, but only 10%. The remaining 90% must still be disposed of, along with the extra waste from the clean 10%.

    The best “regular” wastewater treatment plants only deliver water that is about 80% free of contaminants. That’s when they are running right. I spend many years in the wastewater industry and I saw a lot of paperwork fudged and test sampled adulterated. If an operator brags about “drinking quality water,” that mean he or she is getting their test samples from the tap. I have seen it many times.

    In addition, oversight by the FLDEP was basically non-existent on a good day.

    There are no solutions to the problem that can or will ever be implemented. The best thing for the environment of South Florida will be when sea level rise covers it over and makes it uninhabitable by humans.

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