Everglades Mining Project Poses Greater Threat to Dade County's Drinking Water than Previously Thought, Government Studies Show
Environmental Groups Ask Corps of Engineers to Stop Mining
MIAMI, FL (February 16, 2004) - Three environmental groups are releasing the results of recent government testing showing that a massive mining project surrounding Miami Dade County's largest wellfield poses a significant and undisclosed threat to the area's drinking water, as well as violates wellfield protection laws. Dr. Stavros Papadopulos of S.S. Papadopulos and Associates, Inc. (SSP&A), an internationally-recognized expert on wellfield protection and groundwater systems, prepared the analysis of the government data for the groups, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, and National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).
The S.S. Papadopulos report examined results from government tests on the ability of disease-causing organisms to travel from mining pits into the drinking water pumps at the County's Northwest Wellfield. In 2002, based on 1985 data, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had approved permits allowing 5,000 acres of mining within just ½ mile of the wellfield. The setback was intended to ensure that any pathogens, like the microorganisms cryptosporidium and giardia, would no longer be alive by the time they reached the drinking water supply. But the results of an extensively-designed test conducted in April 2003 shows that a setback of more than five miles is necessary to comply with wellfield protection regulations. Even an earlier test (done in 1999), which indicated a slower travel time, indicates that the setback should be at least 1 ½ miles.
"This alarming new information should finally put a stop to the 'the mine first, worry later' policy that's been followed here. The government needs to put public health ahead of the mining companies' bank accounts," said Brad Sewell, senior attorney for NRDC.
The mining industry plans eventually to dig up 15,000 acres of wetlands around the wellfield. Together with the existing pits, the mining project would encompass 22,000 acres, an area of the Everglades equal in size to the City of Miami. Sierra Club, NRDC, and NPCA are challenging the permits in federal court in Miami.
In 1993, water-borne cryptosporidium caused 400,000 people in Milwaukee to experience intestinal illness. More than 4,000 were hospitalized, and at least 50 deaths have been attributed to the disease. Because of this and other contamination incidents, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has worked to strengthen drinking water regulations to protect against disease-causing organisms.
The EPA originally opposed the mining project at the Northwest Wellfield. However, after the Bush Administration took office, the EPA, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, withdrew their objections. County officials continue to voice grave concerns, in part because any contamination would force local taxpayers to build a filtration plant at the cost of several hundred million dollars.
"The Bush Administration can no longer ignore the clear scientific evidence that these mining projects threaten the public health, as well as the environment. If the public knew what was happening with their drinking water supply, there would be a revolt," said Barbara Lange of the Sierra Club Miami Group.
The April 2003 government tests of the aquifer caused the infamous "red water" scare. Tracer dye used in the study moved so fast through the aquifer that it entered the County's water supply before the test could be stopped. The United States Geological Service, the federal agency conducting this test, has refused to provide its own analysis or interpretations of the 2003 test to the environmental groups, including in response to formal requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Sierra Club, NRDC, and NPCA are asking the Corps of Engineers to suspend mining activities until the drinking water threat can be addressed. The groups have also provided the Corps with information showing that the one widely-touted benefit of the original mining plan -- public acquisition of the private wetlands in the Pennsuco wetlands, which lie to the west of the mining area -- is not happening. The fee being paid by the miners under the permits is now far too small to pay for the land, which has tripled to quadrupled in price from what was assumed when the permits were issued.
"Not only have the agencies disregarded drinking water protection, but they are not accounting for the damage to the Everglades from the mining," said John Adornato of NPCA, "This project as it stands now will destroy increasingly-endangered Everglades wetlands, as well as block improved water flows into Everglades National Park."
Stavros S. Papadopulos, the principal author of the new study, is an internationally recognized expert on the analysis of groundwater systems, the evaluation of aquifer test data, and the use of analytical and numerical models for evaluating groundwater flow, contamination, and supply issues. He has served on advisory panels offering technical opinion on a variety of complex groundwater issues and has provided expert testimony in court proceedings. Prior to initiating SSP&A in 1979, he served at the U.S. Geological Survey where he planned and directed research on groundwater systems and development of new methods for analyzing aquifer tests. He is the author or co-author of numerous publications in well hydraulics, aquifer test methodology, groundwater and geothermal energy resource evaluation and subsurface waste disposal. SSP&A's corporate office is located in Bethesda, Maryland, and the firm has regional offices in four U.S. states and in Canada.
The plaintiffs are represented by the Washington, D.C., law firm of Meyer and Glitzenstein and the Miami law firm of Aragon, Burlington, Weil, Schwiep, Kaplan & Blonsky P.A.