The Peace River watershed lies in west central Florida about forty miles east of the Tampa Bay area. Florida’s Peace River was declared an "endangered river" by "American Rivers.org," a non-profit organization committed to protecting and restoring North American rivers.
The central Florida region holds unique pristine watersheds, marshlands, bogs, and other freshwater naturally occurring filtering systems. Watersheds are areas of land with waterways that flow to a common destination. Most of the region's drinking water is pumped from aquifers that are "recharged" from the watersheds described above.
Water seeping or percolating down through Florida’s landscape is naturally filtered by biological and physical reactions on the groundwater. Florida’s residents depend on this process for safe drinking water pumped from the public aquifers below (3). Strip mining these valuable resources show adverse effects on drinking water including quality and quantity.
American Rivers.org lists the Peace River as the "8th" most endangered river in the U.S. as a combined result of phosphate mining, urban sprawl, and agriculture (2). However, typical household and agriculture water consumed is either returned to the aquifers by "percolation", run-off for rivers or evaporates and returns to earth as rain and so on.
Freshwater consumed by the phosphate industry cannot be returned to the public domain because the water is toxic to all life forms and must be stored indefinitely in huge holding ponds of toxic waste by-products from the production of fertilizers. The waste by-product holding ponds can be a square mile in area and over one hundred feet deep.
Unfortunately, over 320,000 acres of watersheds have been strip-mined for phosphate in the Peace River, its tributaries, watersheds, and basins along with crystal clear natural freshwater springs and aquifers. These once pristine unique ecologically rich areas are now no more than a toxic wasteland. There are no more flora and fauna in these largely abandoned tracts of land because the mighty dragline has stripped everything in its path, including navigable waterways and riparian rights causing disastrous severe permanent hydrological landscape changes.
Suppling freshwater to over five hundred thousand residents, one can see how critical the Peace River, its tributaries, and watersheds are to the citizens living in this region of Florida. Natural wetlands provide a vital function and severe land disturbances such as phosphate strip-mining display stark negative impacts to the landscape as a whole and create adverse effects on central Florida’s drinking water.
Florida’s phosphate industry officials insist that operations literally "strip" the fabric of the landscape by completely removing the wetlands, creating "wastelands" while decreasing public water quality and quantity. Over six million people in this region depend on the Peace River basin and watersheds for their drinking water.
One must remember the phosphate industry has legal control for "reasonable use" of Florida’s freshwater reserves under phosphate industry property. However, phosphate industry officials waste more freshwater reserves in the state of Florida than any other industry consumes.
This region also boasts some of the best fishing, boating, and eco-tourism in the world, which are vital industries in the area, each bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars annually by visitors from all around the world.
Unfortunately, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, (SFWMD) states the Peace River is in danger of "significant harm" because of reduced water flow resulting from Florida phosphate industry’s over-consumption of freshwater reserves; destruction of navigable waterways, while leaving the environmental damage for Florida taxpayers to resolve.
Researchers from the University of Miami previously completed studies using a mathematically based model solution to calculate associations of mining with streamflow (1). The model includes parameters derived from empirical data taken in this case, from the upper reaches of the Peace River basin at that time. The study produced an answer that pleased no one, finding that phosphate mining does have an effect on streamflow.
Over time, the model has proved empirically to be correct about lower stream flows in the Peace River basin and all that it encompasses. Interestingly, the results also show regional planning is "urgently" needed for reclamation designs containing and enhancing hydrological cycles in the areas of severely disturbed landscapes as an objective. Little if any progress was made toward new reclamation plans based on predispositions concerning more industry funding required for real world reclamation applications.
The Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey states environmental stresses to the Charlotte Harbor estuaries is adversely affected by lower stream flows from the Peace River basin. The likely cause was determined to be phosphate industry related from over consumption of freshwater from Florida’s freshwater resources.
1. Hydrologic modeling impacts of post. link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11769-015-0745-2.
2. People for Protecting Peace River - http://www.protectpeaceriver.org/
3. Phosphate Mining | Sierra Club. - sierraclub.org/florida/phosphate-mining.