Many surface mines in Iowa remain unreclaimed

The last operating coal mine in Iowa closed in 1994. However, there are several unreclaimed surface mines that still pose significant environmental and aesthetic hazards.

Surface coal mines that ceased operations before 1977 were not required to be "reclaimed" by the operator once mining stopped.

Consequently, there are over 230 unreclaimed mine sites in Iowa--most of them in the southeastern part of the state.

Since the reclaiming of sites began in the mid 1980s, almost 100 have been reclaimed.

Exposed remnant coals at unreclaimed mines leads to acid mine drainage which lowers the pH in receiving water bodies, negatively affecting aquatic life and reducing biodiversity.

These coals can also cause acidic soils which do not support the growth of vegetation thus causing the landscapes to look barren.

"We have very poor soils to work with so we have to incorporate a lot of lyme and organic matter in order to provide a growing medium for vegetation to grow," said Iowa Department of Agriculture Environmental Engineer, Michael Bourland, P.E.

Reclamation can be quite costly--a 19 acre site in Van Buren County is costing about $300,000 to reclaim.

Reclamation projects in Iowa frequently have multiple partners. The Iowa Department of Agriculture Mines and Minerals Bureau receives funds from the Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining through a fee placed on current coal production activities.

Local non-profit organizations also contribute.

The reclamation project comes at no expense to the landowner.