Phosphate Mining Linked To Sinkholes

Sinkhole formation (fig. 1) data correlate directly to overburden removal practices from aquifer destruction and complete removal, such as practiced by the phosphate industry. The U.S. Geological Survey believes... when natural water drainage pattern is changed dramatically or when new water diversion systems are used, sinkholes may soon develop. Some sinkholes form when the land surface is changed as described above, such as when industrial phosphate run-off and materials settlement storage ponds are created. The substantial weight of the new material can trigger an underground collapse of supporting material, thus causing a sinkhole. The overburden sediments that cover buried cavities in the aquifer systems are delicately balanced by ground-water fluid pressure (surface materials back pressure). The water below ground is actually helping to keep the surface soil in place. Ground-water pumping for phosphate mines is enormous based on a seemingly unending water supply, in the form of Florida's aquifers. Draglines are used for moving millions of metric tons of surface materials known as Overburden. This results in a lowering of groundwater levels and underground structural failure.

FIG. (1) Bartow Florida - Sinkhole Formed in Phosphogypsum Stack

Sink Holes Defined

A Sinkhole is an area of ground that has no natural external surface drainage–when it rains, all of the water stays inside the sinkhole and typically drains into the sub-surface aquifers.

Sinkholes can vary from a few feet to hundreds of acres and from less than (1) foot to more than (100) feet deep. Some are shaped like shallow bowls or saucers whereas others have vertical walls; some hold water and form natural ponds or lakes.

Typically, sinkholes form so slowly that little change is noticeable, but they can form suddenly when a collapse occurs. Such a collapse can have a dramatic effect if it occurs in an urban setting.

Sinkhole formation data correlate directly to overburden removal practices from aquifer destruction and complete removal, such as practiced by the phosphate industry.

Southwest Florida Water Management believes…

When natural water drainage pattern is changed dramatically or when new water diversion systems are used, sinkholes may soon develop. Some sinkholes form when the land surface is changed as described above, such as when industrial phosphate run-off and materials settlement storage ponds are created.

The substantial weight of the new material can trigger an underground collapse of supporting material, thus causing a sinkhole.

The overburden sediments that cover buried cavities in the aquifer systems are delicately balanced by ground-water fluid pressure (surface materials back pressure). The water below ground is actually helping to keep the surface soil in place.

Ground-water pumping for phosphate mines is enormous based on a seemingly unending water supply, in the form of Florida’s aquifers. Draglines are used for moving millions of metric tons of surface materials known as Overburden. This results in a lowering of groundwater levels and underground structural failure.