Klamath Riverkeeper Press Release | For Immediate Release
August 6, 2009
Contact: Scott Harding, Executive Director, Klamath Riverkeeper
Governor Signs Bill Banning Suction Dredge Mining in California’s Rivers
Bill Supported by Klamath Riverkeeper Halts Dredging Immediately
Sacramento, CA – Today Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB 670 into law, temporarily banning the use of in-stream suction dredges for gold mining. Suction dredge mining is known to harm fisheries, degrade water quality, and threaten public health. SB 670’s ban will remain in effect until the California Department of Fish and Game completes an environmental review of the practice and issues new regulations.
Senator Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) authored SB 670. The bill overwhelmingly passed both the Senate and Assembly along bipartisan lines. It contains an urgency clause that renders it effective immediately.
“We’re very pleased to see the Governor act to protect fisheries, water quality, and public health by signing SB 670 into law. The recreational gold mining hobby of 3,200 miners has been compromising the publicly owned waters and fisheries of the state for too long,” said Scott Harding, Executive Director of Klamath Riverkeeper, one of many groups supporting SB 670.
“This is a win-win for fisheries and the state’s budget,” Harding continued, explaining that the state has been using General Fund money to operate the suction dredge permit program that loses approximately $1.25 million more than it brings in from permit fees.
Last month, a California Superior Court Judge issued an injunction barring the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) from continuing to subsidize the program with General Fund money and ordered CDFG to stop issuing suction dredge permits. The injunction did not affect existing permits. SB 670, however, places a ban on the operation of a suction dredge in California’s rivers including those currently permitted.
“The governor has made it clear by signing SB 670: suction dredgers need to pull their dredges off the river immediately,” said Harding. Other forms of mining such as gold panning, sniping, metal detecting, sluicing, and high banking are not affected by the suction dredge ban.
SB 670’s ban on the practice will continue until this review is complete and the new regulations are in effect. Fisheries and river advocates hope that the new regulations will limit the size and number of dredges, place critical spawning and critical cold water areas off limits, reduce fuel spills, and provide a plan for dealing with leftover mercury deposits from previous mining activity that dredges frequently encounter.
Background on Suction Dredge Regulations
The struggle to properly regulate suction dredging began in 1997 when coho salmon were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. CDFG failed to update suction dredge regulations and, in 2005, the Karuk Tribe of California sued CDFG to implement the required update. CDFG agreed to update suction dredge regulations for the Klamath River watershed in the Karuk’s ancestral territory. However, a Happy Camp, CA-based recreational mining club known as the New 49ers intervened and forced CDFG to undertake a formal rule making process pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act. In violation of a court order, CDFG failed to complete this rule making process by 2008 and in early 2009 the Karuk Tribe requested an emergency closure of the Klamath River to suction dredge mining due to declining fish populations. In response, the New 49ers requested CDFG to outlaw Karuk’s from salmon fishing at their one remaining fishing site on the Klamath. Both requests were declined and, in March 2009, a coalition of conservation groups, including Klamath Riverkeeper, and the Karuk Tribe filed a lawsuit to block CDFG from issuing further suction dredge permits. A judge issued a preliminary injunction in July 2009, ordering CDFG to stop issuing permits.
“If CDFG had acted properly and legally in 1997 or again in 2005, there would be no need for SB 670 and we would already have suction dredge regulations that protect fisheries and water quality,” said Harding. He also noted that the New 49ers opposition to tighter regulations on the Klamath River ultimately forced a dredging closure on all rivers in California with SB 670. “The New 49ers took an ‘all or nothing’ approach to regulation on their dredging activities. Turns out that they will get nothing until the new rules are out,” Harding continued.
What is a Suction Dredge?
Suction dredge mining takes place directly in river and stream channels using a floating, gas-powered vacuum coupled to a sluice box. The miner vacuums up the river bottom and runs the sediment through a mechanized sluice to separate out gold flakes. The sediment is then spit back into the river in long, murky plumes.
Suction dredging represents a chronic and unnatural disturbance to the river and is known to harm fisheries, aquatic habitat, and degrade water quality. It can stir up leftover mercury pollution from historical mining activity and reintroduce it into the food chain, creating a public health problem. At times, ten or more suction dredges can be found in one river mile on the Klamath River and several hundred dredges are estimated to be operating within the watershed at one time.
Klamath Riverkeeper is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to restoring the Klamath River and its tributaries, fisheries, and communities. Klamath Riverkeeper has offices in Orleans, California and Ashland, Oregon. For more information please visit www.klamathriver.org.
For photos of suction dredging on the Klamath, please email or download at www.klamathriver.org/images/KlamathRiverSuctionDredge.jpg