SB 670 Would Place a Moratorium on Dredge Mining in California Rivers

A modern day Gold Rush is happening in America! Membership in the Gold Prospectors of American Association has expanded by 20%, and 3000 new mining claims have been filed in California over the past two years. Over half of these new claims were filed in the first quarter of 2009! At over $900 an ounce, prospectors are looking to gold during the current economic recession, but what is it doing to our rivers?

Suction dredge mining harms salmon spawning habitat on the Klamath River.
Suction dredge mining harms salmon spawning habitat on the Klamath River. /Β Image by oregon

The idyllic image of panning for gold is not an economic reality for miners. Suction dredges are the tools of modern day gold miners. The dredges suck up river bottom, use a sluice to sort out the gold, then dump the remaining silt back in the river. The negative effects of suction mining are disrupting spawning habitat, creating more turbid river conditions, spilling fuel into waterways, stirring up mercury leftover from the last Gold Rush, and killing aquatic organisms.

SB 670 would place a moratorium on dredge mining in California rivers. The Sierra Fund explains:

This bill was introduced by Senator Pat Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) to place a moratorium on motorized dredge mining pending a full scientific review and update of rules by the California Department of Fish and Game. The bill is scheduled to come before the California Senate’s Natural Resources and Water Committee on April 28, 2009.

As a result of a 2005 lawsuit filed by the Karuk tribe, the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) must undergo a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review to study the effects of dredge mining on fisheries. The DFG failed to complete the study by the July 2008 deadline. SB 670 would create a temporary moratorium on dredge mining until this CEQA review and subsequent rule changes were complete.

California fisheries are in trouble, and hobby mining is contributing to the problem of poor river conditions. The states fisheries cannot sustain the negative impact of loosely regulated and unenforced suction dredging, especially on the Klamath River. SB 670 would stop new permits from being issued until a scientific review is completed.

Written by Jennifer Lance

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