Florida’s phosphate industry is known to own and strip mine lands in riparian areas of the state. Particularly in central Florida where the regions drinking water is degrading, caused by phosphate industry practices (1). The phosphate mining industry consists of some twenty seven sites in Florida as a whole, but most of the largest phosphate mines are located in central Florida south of interstate four (I-4).
Riparian areas in central Florida, which include floodplain uplands as well as wetlands, are considered to be the most important buffer areas for protecting “receiving water” quality (incoming water to the system). The water quality and quantity rely on a particular set of variables. Each variable is responsible for a particular task in the natural production of clear clean drinking water.
One pollutant in particular causes the most severe environmental impacts called phosphorus (2). High levels of phosphorus in an aquatic habitat causes sever outbreaks of algae which in turn lowers a critical variable called dissolved oxygen in water. This in turn causes the weaker flora to disappear taking with it the fauna that it fed. The cycle continues until all the flora and fauna disappear causing dead zones.
Dead zones are sterile areas that can exist as long as the toxin creating the dead zone exists. In this case, phosphorus based nutrients (pollutants) from phosphate mining are causing dead zones in riparian lands and navigable waterways. Industry practices are the cause of many environmental issues including polluting public freshwater resources. After all the freshwater resources belong to the state and considered as public domain. Florida’s phosphate industry can consume only enough water as to not disrupt adjacent land owners and downstream users of the water body in question.
Phosphate industry officials direct operations to strip mine this region of Florida possibly without legal authority based on the Public Trust Doctrine of Florida. Keep in mind, this region holds most of Florida’s watersheds north of the Everglades, so ecologically speaking, are without equal anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the natural process creating such a landscape also produced one of the most sought after minerals for the production of fertilizer called phosphate and it intermingles with central Florida’s fresh drinking water resources sustaining numerous habitats including a 1.8 billion dollar sport fishing venue.
Florida does not need phosphate mining as an economic pillar. In fact, over the last forty years, phosphate mining has cost local taxpayers billions of dollars in lost revenue due to industry accidents alone.
Interestingly this same region holds central Florida’s freshwater resources intertwined with watersheds supporting lowlands and wetlands. One phosphate mine can cover as much as one hundred thousand acres which includes central Florida’s watersheds, wetlands and drinking water resources. The central region of Florida also contains navigable waterways and riparian lands being completely removed from the earth by the phosphate industry. Using Google© Earth, it is clear to see the severe environmental impacts in the region described above.
Unfortunately, the Peace River basin lies in land owned by the phosphate industry and even though the industry has no legal right to mine the regions’ navigable waterways, they do anyway. Florida’s elected officials seem to be blind to the severe environmental impacts to Florida’s freshwater resources. However, water management officials continue to issue permits to strip mine very large tracts of land in Florida’s watersheds, knowing the irreparable damage being caused.
The Peace River in central Florida is the 8th most endangered river in the United States while supporting the regions critical environmental connection including natural habitats for numerous species of flora and fauna.
Not surprisingly, the head waters of the Peace River are polluted with high levels of algae do to phosphate based nutrients (pollutants). Curiously, the phosphate industry strip mines this region as well, creating phosphorus based pollutants. Industry officials claim they do not know how the high levels of phosphorus are entering the head waters of the Peace River. Industry officials say it is not their facilities causing the problem. Now the phosphorus concentration in central Florida water bodies is so great, the University of Miami researcher’s study suggest the high levels of phosphorus are also increasing outbreaks of red tide where the rivers and streams reach the Gulf of Mexico.
The importance of the Peace River basin producing drinking water and essential habitats cannot be overstated. This region also holds floodwaters for recharging the aquifers, rivers, and lakes in the area. Central Florida’s wetlands provide habitats for priceless species of flora and fauna. All of which helps maintain production of clean fresh drinking water.
1. Phosphate Mines. – http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/mines/manpho.htm
2. NCSU Water Quality Group WETLAND MANAGEMENT. – http://www.water.ncsu.edu/watershedss/info/wetlands/manage.html