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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | North Coast | Environment & Forest Defense
Judge Keeps Suction Dredge Mining Out of California Rivers This Summer
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.— A San Bernardino County Superior Court judge ruled today against an attempt by the mining community to start suction dredge mining in California waterways this summer. Suction dredge miners had asked the court to prevent the California Department of Fish and Wildlife from enforcing the current moratorium on the destructive practice, which has been in place since 2009. The moratorium is designed to prevent mercury pollution and damage to wildlife, waterways and cultural resources caused by suction dredge mining until safer rules are adopted.
“Californians can breathe a sign of relief that our rivers and wildlife will be protected this summer from the toxic plumes of mercury that suction dredge mining releases,” said Jonathan Evans, Environmental Health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “In this time of devastating drought, our water supplies are crucial to California’s well-being. I really hope the legislature steps in to clarify the need to protect our dwindling water supplies from mining pollution.”
Suction dredge mining uses machines to vacuum up gravel and sand from streams and river bottoms in search of gold. California law prohibits in-stream suction dredge mining until the state develops regulations that pay for the program and protect water quality, wildlife and cultural resources. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has not completed those regulations.
“In light of our crashing fish populations, to allow the vacuuming up of our streambeds to search for gold defies common sense as well as being a war on fish,” said Robert Wright, senior counsel for Friends of the River. “Happily, it now looks like sanity will prevail this summer.”
A current bill in the California legislature — Senate Bill 637 (Allen) — would help establish stronger water-quality regulations to limit suction dredge mining pollution. S.B. 637 would help minimize the legal uncertainty regarding in-stream river mining, which is also being reviewed by the California Supreme Court in the People v. Rinehart case. The bill has passed the California Senate and is now with the state assembly.
The harm done by suction dredging is well documented by scientists and government agencies. It harms state water supplies by suspending toxic mercury, sediment and heavy metals. The Environmental Protection Agency and State Water Resources Control Board urged a complete ban on suction dredge mining because of its significant impacts on water quality and wildlife from mercury pollution.
“Suction dredging is a continuation of the genocidal legacy of gold miners that started over 150 years ago,” said Karuk Director of Natural Resources Leaf Hillman. “We will continue the fight to protect our cultural and natural resources from this reckless form of river mining.”
Suction dredge mining threatens important cultural resources and sensitive wildlife species; the California Native American Heritage Commission has condemned its impacts on priceless tribal and archeological resources. It destroys sensitive habitat for important and imperiled wildlife, including salmon and steelhead trout, California red-legged frogs and sensitive migratory songbirds.
A coalition of tribal, conservation and fisheries groups have been seeking to uphold California’s laws regulating suction dredge mining. This coalition includes the Center for Biological Diversity, the Karuk tribe, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Friends of the River, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Foothills Anglers Association, North Fork American River Alliance, Upper American River Foundation, Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, Environmental Law Foundation and Klamath Riverkeeper. The coalition is represented by Lynne Saxton of Saxton & Associates, a water-quality and toxics-enforcement law firm.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Friends of the River protects and restores California rivers by influencing public policy and inspiring citizen action. With more than 5,000 members, Friends of the River is California’s statewide river conservation organization.
The Karuk Tribe is the second largest federally recognized Indian Tribe in California. The Karuk have been in conflict with gold miners since 1850. Karuk territory is along the middle Klamath and Salmon Rivers.
Press release: June 23, 2015
Center for Biological Diversity