Florida is often cited as the state with the most active development of sinkholes in the United States. It is true, Florida does contain many sinkholes and the area of Florida with the most active development of sinkholes is southwest central Florida. An area of south-central Florida is known as the Peace River watershed. The Peace River watershed is also where Bone Valley is located. Bone Valley gets its name from the fossils found at phosphate strip mining sites where draglines have sliced through history to reach the valuable phosphate matrix they seek.
Why Do Some Sinkholes Form?
Sinkholes are known to form when natural drainage patterns change radically as in the way phosphate strip mines change the landscape. The draglines dramatically change the landscape which in turn changes the hydrology of natural water movement. A dragline can move millions of tons of material from one place to another over a short period. Historically, in the area described above, this type of activity is directly related to sinkhole formation.
Sinkhole formation is related to both, removing surface materials from one area and adding surface materials to a different area. (3) This is because the karst rock landscapes
in this area are near surface and are known to be related to sinkhole formation. The formation of sinkholes occurs when underground caverns or caves collapse because of surface activity. During the erosion process, over time, large underground caves and caverns form in the sub-surface in the Florida landscape. The sheer weight of materials moved by the dragline causes the empty caverns to collapse.
Florida’s karst rock landscape and characteristics have been known for over one hundred years. Karst landscapes are mentioned because of the hydrogeological characteristics of this type of landscape. Meaning, Florida’s elected officials are keenly aware of the sinkhole problems in the area, but do not want the phosphate industry penalized for the severe environmental damage they cause.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection knows the phosphate industry is creating severe environmental impacts. Ken Huntington with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) says, “While grassy wetlands can be restored, he argues, phosphate companies (historically) have done a poor job of restoring forested wetlands. Strip mining also changes the topography, interfering with natural water flows. Wetlands adjacent to upland phosphate areas and dependent upon seepage from them are slowly drying up.” (1)
Mining is also blamed by the state for slowing the natural recharge rate of the Floridan aquifer.” “We recommend that permits be denied, but we constantly get overruled in Tallahassee,” says DEP environmental specialist Allen Shuey. “I’ve complained bitterly, but it doesn’t change.”
Here again, one can see Florida’s phosphate industry and Florida’s elected officials give lip service to the public, bolstering their eco-friendly propaganda to Florida’s taxpayers. The FDEP cannot do their job because Florida’s elected officials do not want the public to hear about the environmental impacts being caused daily by the phosphate industry. Mr. Jason Polk, a geoscience professor at Western Kentucky University (1), an avid diver in Florida’s springs. Mr. Polk is researching underground caverns in Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and Marion counties. “You go in a cave where there’s no longer any water at all,” he said. “Places you used to swim through, now you have to walk through. It is a permanent decline,” said Mr. Polk. One has only to search for the truth out in plain sight, but the phosphate industry along with Florida’s elected officials use smoke and mirrors to give the illusion of remediation and reclamation for Florida’s springs, aquifers, and unique ecosystems. Unfortunately, this strategy is working because little information about the phosphate industry is being told to local Florida residence.
Mr. Jeff Peterson, another avid cave diver, explored Florida’s larger springs and now has seen worrisome changes in Weeki Wachee Springs. When he hands his findings over to state water officials, he said, “They say thank you” but that is all. “They’re trying to determine how much we can tolerate dragging that thing down before the ecosystem falls down.” (1)
This information is disheartening, because one expects their elected officials to protect their interests, the environment, and the future of the state. In this case, Florida’s elected officials are only protecting the interests of the phosphate industry.
Severe Environmental Impacts
One of the worst industry-caused sinkholes occurred in 1994 in Polk County, Florida. (1) The weight of a gypstack pressing down on the soft, Florida terrain can lead to disasters. Like the one that happened in June of 1994, a sinkhole developed in the worst place possible, inside a toxic waste gypstack disposal waste dump near the city of Mulberry, FL. The sinkhole was estimated to be 110 feet in diameter and 200 feet deep. Inside the gypstack where the sinkhole developed holds millions of gallons of toxic radioactive waste, which poured this toxin directly into subterranean caves that lead to the Florida aquifer systems. The impact of this disaster is not known because little was done in the way of research in the wake of this catastrophe. Most reports were not completed or swept under the rug and soon forgotten.
Mentioned previously, beginning in 1949, the state of Florida has acquired 17 springs for its (3) state park system. (2) A 2003 study by Florida State found that four of the largest ones, Wakulla, Ichetucknee, Homosassa and Volusia Blue, brought in $280 million annually, and each created 259 jobs. If those springs dry up, it is not just an environmental crisis; it is an economic disaster, say officials.
What If The Water Runs Out?
In White Springs, Florida, groundwater pumping from a nearby phosphate mine drained so much water from the aquifer that the spring stopped its regular flow in the 1970s. The town of White Springs lost it spring venue and visitors stopped coming; then the town went bust. The phosphate industry that caused this issue did not seem to care and did little if any in the way of revitalization in the area. (2)
One can see that Florida’s phosphate industry is causing severe environmental impacts while the state of Florida does little in the way of enforcing Florida law. Meanwhile, Florida’s taxpayers are paying for the cost of damages by the phosphate industry with their money and their health.