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Proposed Regulations for California Suction Dredging

The Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report for suction dredging was released by the California Department of Fish & Game on February 28, 2011.

DFG is recommending a “Reduced Intensity Alternative” that would severely reduce the number of permits allowed to 1,500 and limit those with permits to a maximum of 14 days of dredging. (Note: DFG has issued an average of 3,650 permits per year in previous years.) The agency also wants to limit dredges to the main water channel no closer than 3 feet to the water’s edge or instream gravel bars; require backfilling of dredge holes; eliminate countless smaller tributaries; and place numerous restrictions on others. Obviously this is not acceptable. Of course there is no provision made for compensating miners for the proposed “taking.”

One of the most asinine proposals in the SEIR is to require miners to state when and where they will be dredging. This information would be accessible to the public, which would make them prime candidates for getting their homes burglarized while they are out mining.

The agency claims there will be “significant and unavoidable environmental impacts” related to mercury, trace metals, riparian habitat, historical resources, archaeological resources, noise, wildlife and turbidity.

DFG wants to ignore the fact that current mining law allows only reasonable regulation. The proposed regulations would effectively prohibit a miner from making a living. Dredgers would be limited to a meager 4” intake and would be unable to follow a paystreak once it is located due to the restrictions on placement of dredges within the channel, time in the water, and the fact that many smaller waterways with mineable deposits would be placed off limits.

We could not find any mention of proposed permit fees within the 1,000+ pages of the report. Much of the SEIR deals with mercury discharge and resuspension. The conclusions they arrive at read like they were written by a member of the Sierra Club or the Center for Biological Diversity. It’s obvious they have a conclusion they want to reach and they slant their opinions in order to reach that goal. The large section dedicated to mercury discharge and resuspension is a prime example.

The USGS conducted a “mercury study” near the confluence of Humbug Creek and the South Yuba River, which they admit is one of the most mercury contaminated sites in California due to historic hydraulic mining coupled with historic mercury mines in the vicinity. Numerous pages are dedicated to laying out the possible negative effects mercury and methylated mercury could have on the health of fish. What the report doesn’t say is that this mercury will be transported and methylated mercury will be created without a single suction dredge in the water. High waters move gold, lead, mercury and other heavy metals every spring, and flood waters that inevitably come every few decades scour the river bottom better than any number of dredgers ever could. Dredging can and will improve our waterways by at least removing and recovering a portion of the mercury and other heavy metals, but you won’t see that in their conclusions. The SEIR completely avoids the environmental benefits of suction dredging, making a mockery of what used to be called science.

Joseph Greene, an EPA research biologist (retired) with 30 years experience, stated, “There is no scientific evidence that small scale suction dredging harms fish if performed following the States designated in-water work periods. On the other hand, there is published scientific data showing that fishermen kill thousands of fish eggs and fry by wading through the streams and fish redds while fishing during spawning season.

“Scientists have become advocates for certain agendas—they have become believers and crusaders, forgetting that science moves forward and makes progress by skepticism rather than by the preservation of some status quo or some consensus position.”

Here’s what the report says about the preferred alternative:
“The Reduced Density Alternative is similar to the Proposed Program but would incorporate a combination of additional restrictions on the total number of permits issued and general methods of operation to reduce the intensity of environmental effects in the Program area.

“Under this alternative, a maximum of 1,500 permits would be issued annually by CDFG instead of a maximum of 4,000 under the Proposed Program. This would translate to a 59% decrease in dredging operations permitted annually compared to the recent historic average. As described in Chapter 3, the total number of permits issued by CDFG over the last 15 years has fluctuated; though on average approximately 3,650 permits have been issued each year.

“Additional operational requirements would include density limitations, additional equipment restrictions, and restrictions on the duration of daily dredging and total number of days each individual could dredge. Dredging densities would be regulated by establishing a minimum spacing requirement of 500 feet between dredges. The maximum permissible diameter for nozzle sizes on dredging equipment would be set at 4 inches, with no exceptions. Equipment usage would also be limited to the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and a total of 14 days per year for each permit holder.”

The Draft SEIR and supporting documents are available on the web at: www.dfg.ca.gov/suctiondredge

Copies can be provided upon request by calling (530) 225-2275. Copies of the Draft SEIR are also available for review at DFG regional offices in California:
  • 601 Locust St., Redding
  • 1701 Nimbus Rd, Ste A, Rancho Cordova
  • 7329 Silverado Trail, Napa
  • 1234 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno
  • 4949 Viewridge Ave., San Diego
  • 3602 Inland Empire Blvd., Ste C-220, Ontario
  • 4665 Lampson Ave, Ste J, Los Alamitos
  • 20 Lower Ragsdale Dr, Ste 100, Monterey
  • 1807 13th St., Ste 104, Sacramento
Five public meetings were scheduled in March with very short notice, and we notified subscribers via our website. Under the Administrative Procedures Act, the state is required to hold at least one public hearing at least 45 days after the SEIR was published. DFG received complaints about the short notice and is tentatively scheduling another meeting for Sacramento for May 10, 2011. They will take comments from the public at the meeting, but will refuse to answer questions. You can confirm the meeting time and location by calling (530) 225-2275.

Written comments will be accepted through April 29, 2011 at 5 p.m. Comments may be submitted by e-mail to dfgsuctiondredge@dfg.ca.gov or by regular mail to:
     Mark Stopher
     California Dept of Fish and Game
     601 Locust St.
     Redding, CA 96001
© ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal, CMJ Inc.
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