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.