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The Water Resource Risk

Ecologist Kevin Irwin explains the workings of a headwater swamp. This is Ona, next in line to be strip mined.

In order to get at the valuable phosphate minerals below ground, mining companies have to dig down about 30 feet into the earth's surface. This amount of impact to the landscape has consequences. The changes we see are one thing, but the changes we cannot see are a different matter. Those changes have far ranging and long-term effects. They are critical changes in the way water flows both above and below ground.

This is evident in the report on Cumulative Impacts issued in 2007 by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The report clearly shows why the protection of streams and wetlands is so critical to environmental health.

Florida's flat topography becomes a cratered "moonscape" during the phosphate strip mining process. Before strip mining water flows downstream toward wetlands and creeks, making its way to the rivers, eventually meeting and mixing with salty coastal water. During mining, it is captured at the mine site, to keep pollution from washing downstream.

This unnamed stream flows into Horse Creek. The stream is on the proposed Ona mine...loss of streams like this will have devastating impacts on the ability of Horse Creek to supply fresh water to the Peace River. that affects the cost and quality of drinking water and the health of Charlotte Harbor.

After mining, when the land is “reclaimed” we can still see the changes. For one thing, mined areas are no longer flat. In some places, the mine areas feature an unnatural rolling topography. In other places, artificial lakes exist where they never did in nature. And those lakes don't function like natural lakes, because clay settles at the bottom, making it impossible for water to seep into the ground, recharging our drinking water supply.

On the surface, water does not flow where it once did and because strip mining impacts little streams and wetlands, it impacts everything else downstream.

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