The Issues and Impacts of Phosphate Strip Mining
This is what strip-mining does to pristine habitats. By moving huge amounts of the surface topography, everything is displaced—water, wildlife, nutrients, and plant life.
It's easy to see what phosphate mining can do to an ecosystem. Strip mining removes 20 to 40 feet of the surface of an area to get to the phosphate. In the process, the entire environmental system, including the surface and underground water flows; topography, animals and plants are changed.
Large amounts of water are retained during the mining process. This means that freshwater can't flow down-stream, causing salinity increases to the lower Peace River or Charlotte Harbor. While mining companies are required to "reclaim" the land, filling in the mining pits and planting new vegetation, many environmentalists and scientists don't think the process works particularly well. Whether the ecosystem can truly be restored is debatable. It's a local environmental and economic risk that's taken every time a phosphate mining permit is issued from Tallahassee.
Since the land is seldom restored to its original state, water flow and quality continue to decrease after mining is over. In some cases, streams and creeks are left dry or significantly lowered. In other cases, byproducts of the mining can be washed into the water system. This has lasting effects all the way down river into Charlotte Harbor. Salinity levels have increased as fresh water flows dwindle. Phosphorous and nitrogen levels have also been on the rise.
Phosphate mining also releases some of the naturally radioactive material found deep in Florida's soils. That's a risk. When reclamation doesn't work or when revegetation takes a long time, plant and animal communities can be lost or greatly reduced.
Sometimes, the effects of phosphate mining aren't detectable — and that is the scariest risk of all. It is one thing to plan for the things we can predict. But our greater concern is about the unintended consequences, the impacts of cumulative effects–the sum total of all the impacts of all the mines–and the things we can't control that affect the mining company's ability to manage the environment.
The risk to living things occurs during and following strip mining, and for years to come. That's why we must have the best possible information before we permit mining companies to move into the Peace River watershed, putting the environment and our drinking water supplies at risk in ways we are only beginning to understand.