Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute

 

Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute
Science and Engineering for Florida's Environment and Economy


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Overview of FIPR's Reclamation Program and Priorities with current and past research projects
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Overview of FIPR's Public & Environmental Health Program and Priorities with current and past research projects
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Overview of FIPR's Chemical Processing and Phosphogypsum Programand Priorities with current and past research projects

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About this photo:
This is an example of a restored scrub habitat. FIPR Institute's reclamation research provides information to improve reclamation techniques.

 

Reclamation of Phosphate Lands in Florida

History

Overview

FIPR Institute's Research

Learn about the basics of phosphate in Florida

 

This research area is among the busiest at the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute (FIPR Institute) as it strives to fulfill the Institute's Legislative mandate to assess and resolve significant phosphate industry issues affecting the Florida environment.

Board members and community members agree that when it comes to the effect of phosphate mining and processing on the environment, reclamation research must be a priority.

The public desires and the law requires that land disturbed by phosphate mining and processing must be restored to a useful condition, and in some cases to the point where the ecological systems function like they did before the land was mined. This area of research also includes finding the best ways to reclaim land for more intensive human uses, to minimize environmental hazards, and to improve aesthetics.

History of Phosphate Land Reclamation in Florida

Florida's rapid growth highlighted the need to reclaim mined land and put it to use. In 1975 the Florida legislature passed a law requiring phosphate companies to restore the land they disturb. This law also created a Non-Mandatory Land Reclamation Trust Fund to help reclaim lands disturbed before July 1, 1975. Until this time, companies had reclaimed land on a voluntary basis.

Voluntary reclamation efforts can be traced back to the late 1920s and 1930s. From the late 1940s through the 1960s a combination of public concern, the Legislature's threats to require reclamation, area growth and pre-mining reclamation planning led to voluntary projects that restored land for recreational, agricultural, residential and commercial use.

But even with these voluntary efforts, the majority of the mined lands located in rural sections of Central Florida remained unreclaimed. Companies left the land in Mother Nature's hands and she filled the mined pits with water, covered the mounds of overburden with weeds and other vegetation and attracted a wide array of fish, birds, and other wildlife. Developers, in some cases, turned unreclaimed land into upscale housing developments such as Christina in south Lakeland, complete with hills and waterfront homes.

Overview of Phosphate Land Reclamation in Florida

The Florida law, effective July 1, 1975 requires reclamation (to make suitable for beneficial use or habitat) of each individual acre of land that is mined pursuant to mandatory phosphate reclamation standards. These standards relate to safety, hydrology, contouring, revegetation, wildlife habitat, and the timing of reclamation. Complete restoration, or returning the land to its original condition, is required only for wetland areas.

Phosphate mining occurs primarily in the central Florida area (in Polk, Hillsborough, Manatee, and Hardee counties). One mining company operates in North Florida (Hamilton county). The Florida Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Mine Reclamation's Mandatory Phosphate section is responsible for administering the rules related to the reclamation of lands mined for phosphate after June 1975 and the rules related to Environmental and Wetland Resource Permits for phosphate mined lands.

Phosphate mining disturbs 4,000-6,000 acres of land annually; approximately 25-30% of these lands are isolated wetlands or wetlands connected to waters of the state, according to a December 2002 Bureau of Mine Reclamation report. Mined land is generally a series of steep-sloped spoil piles with water-filled troughs. There are two stages of land reclamation: contouring and revegetation. Contouring is the stage in which the mined land is reshaped to resemble pre-mining topography and drainage. Revegetation provides for the replacement of plant communities as well as for agricultural opportunities. Once reclamation has been satisfactorily completed in accordance with permit requirements, the operator of the mine may be "released" from further obligation to maintain or improve the reclaimed land.

Reclaimed land may be used for recreation, pasturage, industry and homes. Lakes are often created on mined land. These lakes, however, do not substitute for wetlands because they do not provide the same habitat, vegetation or ecosystem functions as do wetlands.

Phosphate companies are required to restore the essential function of wetlands destroyed by mining before they can be released. Most wetland restoration projects are continually and actively managed by phosphate mining companies at great expense. The primary management problems in wetlands restoration are invasive or opportunistic plant species and fluctuating hydrology (changes in ground water and surface water inflows and outflows).

Technical issues associated with reclamation include hydrology, water quality, wetland and other wildlife habitat replacement and mitigation, waste clay disposal, forestry, crop production, soil development, native vegetation establishment and exotic weed control. Today the Integrated Habitat Network (IHN) plan, prepared by the Bureau of Mine Reclamation, is the focus for the reclamation and permitting efforts for phosphate mining in Central Florida. The IHN provides for ecologically-based construction of wildlife corridors which are to be associated primarily with the land adjacent to major river systems and their tributaries.

According to the December 2002 Florida Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Mine Reclamation report, 166,722 acres of Florida land have been mined since the mandatory reclamation law passed July 1, 1975. Of those acres, 51,628 (31%) have been reclaimed and released and another 52,678 have been reclaimed through revegetation for industrial use, making a total of 104,386 reclaimed acres. That is 63% of what has been mined from 1975-2002.

Under current practice there is no standardized, post-release, quantitative assessment of phosphate mine reclamation and restoration projects. Once the Bureau of Mine Reclamation releases the reclamation project area the Bureau is no longer in control of the land.

FIPR Institute's Research Programs in Phosphate Land Reclamation

When the 1975 reclamation laws went into action, state officials charged with overseeing the process had little experience with land reclamation. Consequently, in 1978 the Legislature created FIPR in part to conduct reclamation research and also to make public the findings so the public would be better informed about the impacts of phosphate mining.

Since opening, the Florida Institute of Phosphate Research has funded research to find out what it takes to reclaim lakes, streams, wetlands, dry uplands, scrub habitat, forested areas, and phosphatic clay settling areas. This includes studying wildlife, vegetation, hydrology, and soils. FIPR Institute's reclamation research also addresses phosphogypsum stack closure issues such as economical and effective ways to establish vegetation on the stacks. FIPR Institute has also studied ways to use reclaimed lands for agricultural purposes and has put on a number of symposiums and conferences related to all reclamation issues.

As time moves on and reclamation projects mature, reclamation research builds on what has been learned and practiced since 1975. Issues and topics include restoring ecological systems such as uplands, wetlands, lakes and streams, but research also focuses on water quality and quantity issues connected to restoring the essential hydrologic functions and balances of surface and groundwater systems. A research focus in this area includes evaluating the impact of clay settling areas on area water quality and quantity. FIPR research also tracks how reclaimed areas are evolving and looks at techniques to improve habitat and minimize the use of herbicides and other artificial maintenance. Reclamation research also continues to look at what can be done with phosphatic clay and clay settling areas. One interesting project is looking at using phosphatic clay to fight red tide.

Dr. Steven Richardson has been employed as Director of Reclamation Research at the Florida Institute of Phosphate Research since 1988. Previously, he had been involved in mine reclamation research, regulation, and planning associated with various oil shale, coal, uranium, and sand and gravel projects while employed at Utah State University's Institute for Land Rehabilitation, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and Mobil Oil Corporation's Mining and Coal Division.

He earned a Ph.D. in Plant Ecology and Physiology in 1979 from Utah State University where he researched drought and salinity problems associated with the reclamation of processed oil shale. His M.S. in Plant Science was also from Utah State, while his B.S. degree in Botany and Chemistry was received from Weber State College. He also did graduate work at North Dakota State University in weed biology and control and post-doctoral work at Texas A&M University and the University of Missouri on environmental stress physiology of crops and native plants.

Steven Richardson

 

 
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