You may be asking yourself, “Is Iowa really a coal mining state?” To answer your question, yes, it is. Coal mining was part of Iowa’s heritage. Early settlers in southern Iowa used coal to heat their homes. Once railroads were in place between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, however, the industry grew rapidly between 1870 and 1920, primarily to fuel the railroad industry. The peak year for coal mining in Iowa was 1917. After 1920, mining began to decline as the railroads began to buy more of their coal from out of state reserves. Coal mining did continue in some capacity throughout the 1940s and beyond. The last operating coal mine in Iowa closed in 1994.
The Iowa Department of Ag and Land Stewardship Mines and Minerals Bureau, Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation (AML), is looking for mines in Marion County. In cooperation with the Marion Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), the SWCD and AML have hired a summer intern to conduct an inventory of abandoned mine sites with a particular interest in surface mines. Jared Thill has been hired to complete the inventory and is asking for help from local landowners.
Approximately 260 mine sites have been located in Iowa, primarily in the southeastern part of the state, affecting around 12,000 acres. Thill is particularly interested in abandoned surface mines and the potential for reclamation projects at these sites. With permission, he will be visiting the mine sites to take water samples to determine if the sites are environmentally safe. Un-reclaimed mines could be a problem. The exposed coal remains lead to acid mine drainage which can lower the pH in receiving bodies of water affecting aquatic life and reducing biodiversity. Also the acidic soils greatly reduce growth of vegetation leading to erosion problems. Highwalls are also a danger for people and animals.
Thill is asking that landowners contact the local SWCD office to talk with him about any known abandoned mine sites.
The Marion County SWCD encourages landowners who have abandoned mine ground to contact the local office in Knoxville at (641) 842-5314 to talk about the reclamation process.