Bone Valley Ecosystem
The Bone Valley ecosystem is made up of the Peace River Basin from the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern in the north to and including the Charlotte Harbor Marine Estuary in the south and the Lake Wales Ridge in the east to the Tampa Bay Marine Estuary in the west. Development, agriculture, and phosphate mining are present throughout Bone Valley and encroach on wetlands, alter hydroperiods, pollute surface and ground water, destroy, degrade and fragment habitat.
Concerns About The Ecosystem
The extreme low surface and ground water levels of recent years will force the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to reconsider past drainage projects in favor of restoration and retention. SWFWMD is in the process of setting Minimum Flows and Levels for the Upper Peace River and upon adoption, must employ a recovery plan to achieve those levels.
Restoration planning efforts on Lake Hancock and the upper reaches of the Peace River continue. The Legislature, through the Water Advisory Panel's Surface Water Restoration Grant Application, provided $750,000 for use in the Lake Hancock effort for funding year 2000 - 2001. The initial funding allowed for a restoration blueprint to be developed including Phase I land acquisition targets, a future demonstration project and some restoration plans already in motion. Land acquisition will take place before any in-lake restoration processes begin as the lands secured will drive the restoration blueprint. The state funding program has not been continued but the SWFWMD Governing Board is now seeking federal and state assistance in funding the estimated $80 million for the Lake Hancock restoration efforts.
Wetland Mitigation on Clay Settling Areas (CSAs) remains a critical issue--one that may scuttle phosphate mining in southwest Florida and save the lower Peace River and Charlotte Harbor. Or it may be the issue that refines and updates reclamation on roughly 20,000 to 120,000 acres of CSAs and provides undevelopable habitat that stands a good chance of being gifted to the public. Old clay settling areas in Polk and Hillsborough Counties and new mines in Hardee, Highlands, and Glades Counties could be affected.
IMC Phosphates Co. and Cargill could possibly acquire permits to mine vast acreages in the Peace River basin including the 25 year floodplain in some areas and tertiary streams, creeks and wetlands. On May 3, 2002, the Central Florida Regional Planning Council presented a report to the Hardee County Commission based on the NRCS's soil rating index. The report indicates that the proposed 16,000 acre Ona mine site is currently dominated by soils that are suitable for farming. Post-mining, those lands would be suitable only for "pasture, rangeland and woodlands." The dramatic change in soil quality could permanently severely limit agriculture for the estimated 27% of the county that either has been or could be mined.
Conservationists should wish to see mining stopped because of its
destruction of natural soils, hydroperiods and habitat all the way to and
in Charlotte Harbor. However, the phosphate industry has money, the law, a
necessary product (phosphorous for modern agriculture), and political
influence so it is unlikely to be defeated. Given their strength, it
simply is practical to gain what we can from it as it moves south to mine
remaining phosphate resources. ...Idealists will not agree, realists will - it is a conservationist's
Another potentially major threat to the Peace River system is the reintroduction of the "Submerged Lands Grab" legislation that failed in the 2000 session.
The Polk Group will work on the following during the year 2003:
We will continue our work to increase public awareness and/or participation regarding permitting processes for mining, inappropriate development activities, agricultural use and runoff, and reduction of economic and wildlife values of lands post-mining through presentations/slide shows such as "Phosphate Mining: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly" and provide direction to public interest through actions such as the Lake Hancock Restoration effort.
- SWFWMD will conduct hearings on establishment of Minimum Flows and Levels once drafted and begin work on medium and high flows and water levels over the next 5 years. We are hopeful that all parties in the Peace River Basin will support the setting of the highest levels possible for the MFL's, as this will increase both surface and groundwater available for various users including the environment.
- Support full funding of the Forever Florida Program and the issuance of Florida Forever Program bonds which supply monies for land acquisition and to the Save Our Rivers Program. We continue to support Save Our Rivers program funding for acquisition of sites within the Peace River project boundaries and continue work to coordinate land acquisition and mitigation efforts by all parties.
Given the state's revenue shortfalls, we will also work to prevent further diversions of monies to non-conservation projects.
- The Polk Sierra group supports the acquisition of scientific data and lands necessary for the restoration of Lake Hancock as well as the testing of new approaches to reduce the cost and increase the effectiveness of lake and river restoration. We will participate in the hearings regarding establishment of Minimum Flows and Levels. We continue participation in the large Cargill and IMC Phosphate Company's Ona and Pine Level Mining permit processes including legal processes which may be brought against the current permit applications and continue education of the public and elected officials regarding the Bone Valley ecosystem. We will continue finding and supporting mitigation sites within the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern for use of $75 million from I-4 widening when it occurs. Emphasis is needed on reestablishment of the connection to the Peace River system across I-4.
- If another "submerged lands grab" were to occur, support is expected to come from the Attorney General, FDEP, SWFWMD, the ACOE, and populous water dependent counties. Opposition will come from supporters of the Submerged Lands Grab: developers, mining companies, their employees and contractors, and the elected officials that serve those interests.
Our hard work pays off!
- The Polk Group has had success with establishing the priorities of the Lake Hancock Advisory Committee (of which our co-Issue Chairs, Marian Ryan and Richard Coleman are members). Phase I of the Lake Hancock Restoration effort will focus on land acquisition, wildlife habitat values and data collection. Phase II will propose in-lake restoration activities.
- Our public education and outreach efforts aided in fueling public opposition to mining permit applications in Hardee and Desoto Counties and the resulting administrative hearing on the IMC Manson-Jenkins mine expansion. We do not yet know the administrative hearing officer's decision on the case.
- We have had continued action by the Lake Hancock/Upper Peace River Water Quality Advisory Group to pursue restoration efforts: acquisition of land, finding funding partners, mitigation monies, etc...
- We brought about beneficial changes in the Mining and Reclamation, mind-set and practices within both the Industry and State Agencies while increasing the public's awareness, expectations and voice.
- The late Richard Coleman served on the Lake Hancock Technical Advisory Committee which looks into the various restoration alternatives and makes recommendations to the full Advisory Committee.
- Marian Ryan is currently serving as Chairman of the Polk County Water Policy Committee. The committee, whose members are County Commission appointees, is charged with the development of a long term water plan for the county. The committee's work has focused on the Upper Peace River, minimum flows and levels and the Southern Water Use Caution Area.
For more information, contact:
Marian Ryan, 863-293-6961, firstname.lastname@example.org
Clay Settling Areas are impoundments which hold the clay-water mix
resulting from the washing of phosphate matrix to separate clay & sand from
the phosphate rock. It takes many years for these "slime ponds" to
consolidate enough to support light weight activities such as cattle
grazing. The amount of clay and consequently the size of these unnatural
and virtually useless clay settling areas increases from 25% of the mined
area in Polk County to 50% of the mined area as the mining moves south.
The clays simply become more abundant the further south that mining occurs.
They will exhibit higher radiation levels and some heavy metals commonly
found in south west central Florida soils. They may have a kerosene like
odor from flotation agents used to capture finer phosphate particles. The
odor from these agents will be noticed both in the local atmosphere and in
fish caught from their water. Return to article
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