Successful reclamation of mine and other disturbed sites is designed to achieve bond / regulatory release in a cost-effective manner. This includes constructing stable topographic surfaces that minimize erosion, support revegetation, promote water quality, and satisfy the post-mine land use. To that end, here are five key considerations to be aware of during initial planning and throughout the required bond release period to help streamline reclamation plan implementation.
- Post-mine topography: Constructing the post-mine topography (PMT) is often the most expensive part of the reclamation process. However, how the PMT is constructed can have a significant impact on costs during the bond release process. This is the time to take advantage of the large equipment and skilled operators that may not be available after active mining stops. Constructing well-designed and erosionally stable landforms from the beginning minimizes costly repairs during the bond release period. By committing the resources to construct robust reclamation features and anticipating future areas of concern, you can save your operation money during the bond release process. Periodically review the approved PMT in your reclamation plan and consider whether a different approach, such as geomorphic design, could improve long-term stability through the bond release period. While the initial effort and cost of revising your PMT may seem daunting, the cost of prolonged maintenance and repair of a poorly designed PMT should be weighed in contrast.
- Post-mine soils quality: Soils and soil quality are the foundation of reclamation success. The chemical and physical properties of post-mine soils can have a dramatic impact on the success of the mine’s stability, revegetation, and surface water quality. The regulatory authority (RA) will require not only a demonstration of topsoil suitability but also reconstruction of the subsoil system. Prepare for success by being familiar with your RA’s soil handling and topsoil substitute suitability requirements, as well as requirements related to soil testing, topsoil supplements, acid-forming materials, and toxic materials at your operation. Identify topsoil substitutes and supplements during baseline sampling and know the quantity of material available. Review your reclamation plan and set firm milestones for post-mine soils sampling to meet the conditions of your reclamation timetable.
- Revegetation success: Successful revegetation takes planning, execution, patience, and timely precipitation. Diverse, effective, and permanent revegetation is a requirement for nearly all post-mining land uses. The good news is that there are multiple organizations available to support you. Reach out to your state or local agriculture department, or leverage the many resources offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Their knowledge of native or desirable plant species for your area will help remove the guesswork, even if you are well into the bond release period. Demonstrating your revegetation meets the RA’s performance standards typically does not come until the last two or three years of bond release, but it is wise to continuously monitor your vegetation to identify areas that may be lagging or failing altogether. Finally, staying on top of weed control and mitigating invasive or undesirable species goes a long way in supporting revegetation success.
- Surface water and groundwater quality: Long-term surface and groundwater quality serve as proof that you got the reclamation right. Positive trends in water quality data submitted to your RA tell the story of successful permanent vegetation growing in suitable soils on a stable PMT. To tell that story, your data generally must be long-term, site-wide, and comprehensive. Look for recurring data gaps, such as a dry well or a stream location that rarely flows, and evaluate how to fill those holes in your data. Drilling a new well or removing the dry well from your monitoring plan completely may be options. Additionally, moving stream monitoring to a different location in the watershed where flows occur more regularly may increase the likelihood of collecting samples. Be aware that RAs are increasingly focused on water quality and may issue new rules or guidance that add potential pollutants or require routine monitoring of permanent ponds.
- Wetlands permits: One of the many permits issued to a mining operation, wetland permits (Section 404 of the Clean Water Act) involve PMT, soils, vegetation, and water quality. You will generally not be able to pursue bond release until you have met the conditions of your Nationwide Permit (NWP). Familiarize yourself with your NWP requirements and establish a line of communication with the RA (i.e., the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). Remember that wetlands delineated prior to mining might not have required field verification for acreages which will result in overestimating your post-reclamation liability. Changing weather patterns may mean that wetlands are more difficult to establish due to ongoing drought conditions. Follow your NWP when evaluating soils, permitting your PMT, and developing the plant species in your revegetation plan. If reclamation plans change, consider requesting a modification to your NWP.
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Trihydro can help owners and operators with the reclamation process during active mining and after mining is complete. We have permitted reclamation plans for large and small coal, trona, industrial, and hard rock mining operations. We team with mine staff or contractors to efficiently reclaim mines in a cost-effective and timely manner. We also often work as our clients’ representative overseeing site maintenance and soil, vegetation, and water sampling and permitting during the bond release process. Trihydro has delivered mine reclamation services in multiple states, so we understand how different states, regions, climates, and approaches impact reclamation, which helps us serve clients across a wide variety of site conditions.