Reclamation Seeding – A Sustainable Solution
Abandoned mine areas are generally difficult to vegetate due to the high amounts of heavy metals that are left behind. It leaves highly acidic levels in the waste materials that are deposited into the valleys, as well as the streams where coal slurry is dumped. Coal companies are mandated to reclaim the environment after they are gone but few are held accountable.
This is a potential ecological disaster as not only are the fields now barren but they are unstable, which can lead to flooding over nearby residential areas. Irresponsible mining can affect agriculture and drinking water supplies. Although they have been fined over $14.7 million for infractions over the last three years, the cost is still not enough to stop them.
Necessary First Steps
In order to reclaim the land properly and make it suitable for vegetation it will first need to be alkalized to the correct PH levels. Best practices for this include putting a layer of clay or limestone over the land in order to neutralize the acidity. Then a layer of topsoil should be added so the seeding process can begin. Reclamation seeding is the best option for creating a sustainable environment and returning the land to its former glory. If mining is done underground after blasting, seeding can provide pastureland for grazing of farm animals.
Return of Vegetation is Vital
Reclamation seeding is the process of restoring disturbed land to its natural vegetative state, as it existed before it was damaged or stripped. Basically it should be left as it was found. Unfortunately most of the reclamation projects have a failure rate on average of 85%. This is mostly due to poor design of the reclamation, as well as lack of appropriate funding. Coal companies are reluctant to put the time or funds back into restoring the land that they have disrupted. Unbelievably, most of the mined lands are essentially abandoned.
One of the main short-term goals of reclamation is to establish quick growing grasses to aid in erosion control. However, this could interfere with longer-term goals of replanting native shrubs and trees with larger roots. It needs to be a fine tuned process of integrating both to create an optimum environment. As with any re-growth it needs constant attention and maintenance to prove successful. The current standards of reclamation tend to deal more with the bottom line and companies are only held to the bare minimum. In order to do this successfully there needs to be stricter regulations and stiffer penalties (not just fines) in place so the mining industry is forced to uphold their end of the bargain.
Making the Best of a Bad Situation
Reclamation seeding is the most sustainable and ecological solution to repairing the landscape after mining. While there are several impediments linked to the process, they are almost entirely due to the current inadequate regulations. We need to consistently refer to those reclamation projects and processes that were able to be successful.
Companies such as Arch Coal have successfully planted over 1.5 million trees on their mining sites in West Virginia. They have had an 80% success rate in restoring natural vegetation, and have recently created more than 200 acres of new wetlands in Central Appalachia. Amerikhol Mining received awards for their reclamation processes, and was able to return the streams and land back into a safe and inhabitable environment. The residents are able to fish as well as raise cattle and the lands continue to be viable for agriculture. These companies should be the standard, and further studied to be considered the “best practice” for reclamation seeding.
Mountain top removal is an extremely harsh way to mine the environment for coal. In order to avoid the disastrous effects of mining on our ecological system as well as to protect resident’s health, it is imperative to establish high standards of reclamation. With changes to the currently lax enforcement by the EPA to hold companies to these standards, successful reclamation should be possible.