Iowa has over 300 abandoned coal mines. This one won national award for environmental remediation and restoration success.

On September 14, 2021 the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Mines and Minerals Bureau received the National Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Reclamation Award from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE).

The Department’s Mines and Minerals Bureau took top honors for their efforts to reclaim the De Ronde site located in Mahaska County, Iowa. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) virtually presented the award to the Department during the NAAMLP conference.

Historic photo of De Ronde mine (by unknown).

Underground coal mining began in Iowa as early as the 1840s with coal production peaking around 1917. The federal government passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, which required companies to remove hazards and stabilize coal mines after they finished mining. This legislation paved the way for the Department’s AML program, which began in 1983.

Iowa has more than 300 AML sites covering 13,000 acres, located primarily in Davis, Mahaska, Marion, Monroe, Van Buren and Wapello counties. AML sites may include dangerous piles, embankments, high walls, pit ponds and bare acidic soils that need to be graded and neutralized for reclamation.

At the end of 2020, 115 sites covering more than 6,185 acres of high priority abandoned coal mines have been reclaimed through federally-funded grants and voluntary landowner participation. There are about 160 sites awaiting reclamation in Iowa.

I’m very proud of the work our team has done to eliminate hazards and restore the land surrounding the state’s abandoned coal mines, which helps protect the safety and health of all Iowans,” said Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Naig.

More than 100 abandoned mine sites have been reclaimed in southeast Iowa, which positively contributes to the state’s ongoing conservation efforts. I’m grateful for our talented team, the federal funding that supports this important work, and the local partners who make it happen,” he added.

The 60-acre De Ronde project was completed in December 2020. The reclamation plan utilized natural regrade and conventional methods to mitigate the environmental effects of surface mining from the 1900s, address lingering safety and health concerns and return the land to beneficial use.

Practices like terraces, basins, rock checks and permanent seeding help redirect water and improve soil health. Several wetlands were also created at the site to filter surface water runoff to help protect the Des Moines River downstream.

Strong partnerships with Pathfinders RC&D, Cornerstone Excavating and the Mahaska Soil and Water Conservation District helped secure project grants and rally community support.

The $1.1 million project was funded by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement through the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation and the Watershed Cooperative Agreement grant programs. The programs are designed to address high priority safety and health hazards as well as environmental concerns on abandoned coal mines.

Watch a video showcasing the De Ronde site reclamation project.

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