Suction Dredge bill passes CA State Assembly 59 to 7

SACRAMENTO, 9 July 2009 – Today the California State Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of Senate Bill 670 (Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa), to create a moratorium on suction dredging.  SB 670 has garnered solid bi-partisan support during its passage through the legislative process, passing the Assembly floor 59 to 7, five votes over the 2/3 majority required for Urgency legislation.  No one rose to speak in opposition to the bill.

SB 670 is a measure that calls for a moratorium on a form of recreational mining known as “suction dredging” until an already court mandated California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) study is completed and new rules that address the myriad of problems posed by suction dredging are put in place.

In introducing the bill on the floor of the Assembly at the State Capitol this morning, Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) told his fellow Assemblymembers that the bill was needed because “suction dredging damages fish habitat” and that California’s commercial Salmon fishing industry has been shut down due to a collapse of the salmon population. Huffman went on to say that “Opponents of this bill will tell you that there is no evidence that suction dredging hurts fish. That’s not true!”

The presence of mercury in Sierra rivers from Gold Rush mining is also a major reason for new suction dredging regulations.  More than 13 million pounds of mercury are left in the Sierra Nevada rivers where people use suction dredges, and these same rivers are the source of over 60% of California’s water supply.  A recent report from the State Water Board shows that today the #1 contaminant in California freshwater fish is methyl mercury, a potent neurotoxin.  Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin, CEO of The Sierra Fund says; “Suction dredging remobilizes Gold Rush era mercury, making the methylation process easier and more likely. This not only exacerbates mercury contamination in Sierra lakes and rivers, but also causes mercury problems throughout the entire watershed all the way to the Sea. There’s no doubt that this study and moratorium are needed and needed now.”

 SB 670 will likely be taken up on the floor of the California State Senate for a “Concurrence” vote on Monday, July 13. The State Senate has already overwhelmingly approved the bill as an Urgency measure, which means that the bill becomes law as soon as the Governor signs the bill.