by Izzy Martin
Sacramento, CA — The Governor’s budget, signed months late on September 22, 2008, had some good news in it for the Sierra. The budget includes $21.7 million for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy including $4.7 million for staff and program, and another $17 million for grant programs from “Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Fund of 2006” (Proposition 84) funds. The Conservancy’s total allocation of $21.7 million is a slight increase over the 2007/08 budget approved last year.
The approved budget also includes $1 million from the General Fund to conduct a court-ordered environmental review of the Department of Fish and Game’s Suction Dredge program and mining regulations. As detailed in The Sierra Fund’s recent report Mining’s Toxic Legacy, gold miners use suction dredges to vacuum creek and river bottoms, often disturbing the elemental mercury left behind by legacy gold mining. This practice is regulated under permits issued by the Department of Fish and Game, however, the California courts have found that the program is out of date and requires environmental review.
The Senate and Assembly Budget Subcommittees both approved the suction dredge review budget item, and included language which would have suspended issuance of dredging permits until the program was reviewed and any needed environmental protections put in place. The Governor, under heavy lobbying by mining interests, struck the language that would have stopped the issuance of dredging permits.
The Sierra Fund will monitor the progress of this study and provide regular updates on related activities. This study should be completed in 18 months.