Phosphate Industry Siege On Alafia River And Watersheds
The Alafia River watersheds and smaller tributaries in the area are known to be used as “navigable waterways” by the state of Florida during the early-19th century by European (1) settlers. During the early-19th century before and during the time of Florida’s statehood, the Alafia River was traveled by early Americans on a daily basis. The fact mentioned before settles any doubts this river and its watersheds are defined as a navigable waterway and is considered public domain for travel, leisure, and commerce.
A settlement called Riverview took root near the mouth of the Alafia River in west central Florida. Riverview is the first recorded settlement in Florida on the Alafia River in (1) 1835. The first area settled by pioneers from the 19th century is near the present day Bell Shoals Bridge just outside of Brandon, Florida. This area of the Alafia River watershed is one of the most pictureque areas on the river. The river takes two emotional bends while flowing under the Bell Shoals Bridge causing the river edges to erode into thirty foot bluffs on both sides of the river.
Bell Shoals Bridge was one of the great spots for fun on the river during the summer months. (2) The bridge is about twenty feet above the average water level at this particular bend in the river. The thoroughness of the river at the bridge was usually around twelve feet thorough. The river water clarity was generally about eight to ten feet of visibility, so most of the river bottom was not easy to see. My friends and I spent many a day swimming in the river and jumping off the bridge into the river; it was great clean fun.
Lithia Springs was a great fun identify feeding millions of gallons of aquifer water to the river, daily. In the early to middle 70’s the springs fed millions of gallons of cool crystal clear aquifer water into the Alafia River all day every day. Unfortunately, the phosphate industry demands so much water from the local aquifers that the main spring at Lithia dropped over ten feet, and the small spring no longer exists, but the rocks where the little spring did exist are nevertheless visible.
Tubing down the river from Lithia Springs was awesome. The spring was a great place to start the tubing trip because just about a half mile down river was a small set of rapids that dumped into a great underground cavern. We used to start tubing at Lithia Springs and tube down the river about three hours and end up at Bell Shoals Bridge.
Once one passes Bell Shoals Bridge, the river gets fairly thorough and slows to a crawl. The area is perfect for slowly drifting in the cool, shaded river, relaxing and catching some rays. Tubing from Bell Shoals Bridge to Riverview takes about three hours, but the trip was well worth it. During the voyage, it was not uncommon to see a family of the manatee, alligators, various water snakes, and other fellow tubers.
The river empties its contents into the Tampa Bay estuary in west central Florida among the mangrove islands, sandbars, and oyster beds just west of Riverview. This area holds one of the most critically environmentally challenged waters and ecosystems in Florida. The vicinity contains meaningful environmental treasures such as breeding grounds for many species of fish, mollusks, shrimp, oysters, clams, manatee, and the like.
Historically, the Riverview phosphate plant causes toxic waste releases creating miles of dead zones in the Alafia River and Tampa Bay estuary. Phosphate industry officials call these enormous kills and dead zones just a “mishap.” The “dead zones” may last years depending on the quantity of poisons released into the ecosystem from the phosphate facilities.
However, the phosphate industry wanted a phosphate plant built at the mouth of the Alafia River on the back of the Tampa Bay estuary. Interestingly, Tampa Bay is the largest estuary and is environmentally basic to commerce on the west coast of Florida. The Tampa Bay estuary is a navigable waterway by definition, but Florida’s elected officials “decided to permit” the phosphate industry officials to alter navigable waterways to build a phosphate plant. Historically, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA says, “the Florida phosphate industry is the worst environmental danger in the state.”
Why did Florida elected officials “permit” phosphate industry officials to construct a phosphate plant in the best environmentally basic ecosystems on the west coast of Florida? This area brings in billions of dollars yearly from tourism alone. Unfortunately, phosphate industry officials are not environmentally savvy and continue to pollute the Riverview area along with Tampa Bay and the Alafia River watershed.
Historically, the Riverview phosphate plant is a site where many of the industries worst environmental catastrophes occurred. Unfortunately, the Riverview phosphate plant is one of the largest in Florida with a phosphogypsum stack over two hundred feet in height and covers about one square mile. This “stack” is a radioactive phosphogypsum pit complete of toxic acidic sludge. Billions of gallons of lethal sludge fill the stack where sulfuric acid and other deadly liquids pool. The large pit surface produces a poisonous sulfuric acidic aerosol, polluting the air in and around the plant all the time, “day in and day out”. The poisons are carried as far as the wind permits, sometimes for miles.
Why would Florida’s elected officials allow this kind of industrial environmental harm to continue to occur in such a basic environmentally challenged ecosystem? For the record, phosphate industry officials donate millions of dollars yearly for “access” to both political parties in Florida, this is no secret.
1. European settlement | Alafia River Watershed Excursion. – swfwmd.state.fl.us/education/watersheds/alafia/settlement.
2. The Bridges of Alafia River State Park, Florida | -singletracks.com/blog/mtb-trails/the-bridges-of-alafia-river-state-park-florida/