All mining operations for both coal and mineral resources are required to file permit applications with the Colorado Department of Reclamation, Mining, and Safety (DRMS) that include detailed reclamation plans. Mine operators must post a reclamation bond to guarantee reclamation and obtain a permit prior to mining. Any operation on federal land is additionally subject to regulation by the federal land management agency in charge, as well as compliance with county governments’ local land-use regulations. Reclamation considerations of a site and protection of the environment start at the beginning of the project.
During the application review process, DRMS ensures the operation will comply with the law, including protecting public health and the environment. Mining activities located adjacent to streams and lakes, or with potential to impact ground and surface water quality and quantity, require more detailed information in reclamation plans. Other major concerns include protecting property and structures in close proximity to disturbed areas, and minimizing impacts to wildlife and their habitat. Mining and reclamation permits are obtained from DRMS. The Coal Program issues one type of mining permit for coal mining and reclamation, regardless of the size of the operation or amount of material mined. The Minerals Program issues four different types of reclamation permits based on the size and type of operation and the characterization of the material being mined.
Within the Coal Program, operators can request release of coal reclamation bonds as stages of reclamation are completed (a three-phase process based on specified criteria). At Phase I, up to 60% of the bond may be released when the mined land has been backfilled and graded to approximate approved post-reclamation contours, and drainage control has been reestablished. Up to 85 % of the bond may be released at Phase II with topsoil replacement, successful establishment of vegetation that supports the post-mining land use, and documentation of compliance with hydrologic balance requirements. The remaining bond may be released at Phase III after successful completion of the reclamation plan and demonstrated compliance with all requirements of the regulations and statutes.
Within the Mineral Program, DRMS may release an operator from reclamation liability when the operator demonstrates that they have met the conditions of the approved Reclamation Plan, the regulations and the statute. All relevant information is reviewed and detailed on-site inspections are conducted to make these determinations. Under both programs, public input and comment is valued and allowed throughout the permitting process, including at bond release. Once a site is released, DRMS no longer has jurisdiction over the site.
Benefits of Reclamation
An important aspect of reclamation is returning the land to beneficial use. In many cases, the post-mine land use will mimic the pre-mining land use. The most common land uses include wildlife habitat, cropland, pastureland, water storage, and occasionally industrial or recreational uses. Lands that are reclaimed to wildlife habitat are often improved by establishment of a more diverse plant community and weed control. As such, reclaimed lands provide valuable wildlife habitat throughout the state of Colorado.