ACTION ALERT: Suction Dredge bill scheduled for hearing on April 12

The Sierra Fund urges No on SB 657 (Gaines):  Maintain the moratorium on recreational suction dredge mining

Please take action now—tell your elected officials to maintain the moratorium on recreational suction dredge mining.  A sample letter and contact information follows this summary of the bill.

SB 657 (Gaines) is scheduled to be heard in Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee Tuesday, April 12, 2011 sometime after 9:30 a.m.  This bill proposes to repeal the prohibition on suction dredging, and exempt suction dredging from the California Environmental Quality Act.

Suction dredge mining has been prohibited in the State of California since August 2009 when then-Governor Schwarzenegger signed an urgency bill requiring the immediate removal of all recreational suction dredge equipment from the waters of the state after DFG acknowledged numerous environmental impacts from the activity.  This bill was adopted with more than 2/3 vote in both houses.  The prohibition must stay in place until the completion of a court-ordered environmental review of recreational suction dredge mining by DFG.  The Legislature and the State Water Resources Control Board funded DFG to conduct a new environmental review and write new regulations.

Since 2009 DFG has been working on this environmental review.  Their draft document, now being circulated for public comment, documents numerous significant and unmitigable impacts of suction dredge mining on everything from fish and water quality to environmental health.  DFG acknowledges that there will continue to be numerous environmental impacts from the activity, even under the department’s proposed new regulations.  Their review provides rigorous scientific data about the role of suction dredge mining in releasing and mobilizing the highly toxic mercury found alongside the gold in California’s rivers and streams – elemental mercury (quicksilver) left over from mining that ended more than 100 years ago.

SB 657 would repeal the prohibition on the use of vacuum or suction dredge equipment, and would exempt the issuance of permits to operate suction dredge equipment from the California Environmental Quality Act until January 1, 2014. Even though DFG has acknowledged that the suction dredge program costs the state hundreds of thousands of dollars more than it collects in permit fees, the bill would require DFG to refund a portion of the permit fees collected in 2009. The bill would also require the department to complete an expensive economic impact report on the prohibition on the use of vacuum and suction dredge equipment.  This bill requires a 2/3 vote.


The Sierra Fund believes that the court-ordered environmental review process should be completed before any new suction dredge permits are issued.  The last time this issue was considered by the legislature, the moratorium on suction dredging won the bi-partisan support needed to bring an urgency measure to the Governor.  It passed Senate Natural Resources & Water with 8 votes, the Senate floor with 31 votes, and won unanimous support in the Assembly Policy and Appropriations committees before its passage.  The urgent need for this moratorium was apparent then and is even more clear now.

For more information, contact Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin, CEO:  (530) 265-8454×11

Letters of opposition to the bill (sample letter follows) may be sent to your Senator  (find your Senator’s contact information at and/or faxed to the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee at (916) 323-2232.




Sample letter opposing SB 657

Senator Fran Pavley, Chair
Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee
via fax transmission

Dear Senator Pavely,

I [or my organization] am writing to urge a no vote on SB 657 (Gaines).  This bill seeks to end the moratorium on recreational suction dredge mining adopted as an urgency measure by 2/3 of the legislature and signed by the Governor in August 2009. The moratorium was supposed to stay in place until the Department of Fish & Game (DFG) completed a court-ordered Environmental Impact Review (EIR) of recreational suction dredge mining.

Since 2009 the DFG has studied the impact of recreational suction dredge mining.  Their draft EIR finds nine significant and unavoidable impacts of recreational suction dredge mining, including impacts on mercury discharge, birds, historical resources, noise, wildlife, and water quality.

We urge you to allow the process already outlined by the courts and the legislature and keep the moratorium in place.  Please vote no on SB 657.  Thank you for your consideration.


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