ACTION ALERT: Support SB 670, moratorium on suction dredging

NEVADA CITY,  9 April 2009 – Send a letter today in support of SB 670! This bill was introduced by Senator Pat Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) to place a moratorium on motorized dredge mining pending a full scientific review and update of rules by the California Department of Fish and Game. The bill is scheduled to come before the California Senate’s Natural Resources and Water Committee on April 28, 2009.

A sample letter to Senator Pavely and other members of the Committee including Senators Cogdill (Vice-Chair), Benoit, Hollingsworth, Huff, Kehoe, Leno, Padilla, Simitian, Wiggins and Wolk is attached, below. 

The rules that govern suction dredging have been legally challenged and found to be out of date. The California Department of Fish and Game was ordered by the California courts to undergo a CEQA review and rule change as a result of a Karuk Tribe lawsuit filed in 2005. The courts ordered DFG to complete the review and make appropriate rule changes by July 2008, but they have not met this deadline.

Data generated by scientists at the SWRCB and other government agencies indicate that suction dredge activities disturb and mobilize the mercury left behind from gold mine operations. There is little credible scientific doubt about the impact of suction dredging in “flouring” mercury, nor the increased potential for methylation that can result.  Methylmercury has been a regulatory concern of the SWRCB for several years due its known serious effect on human health.  The following fact sheet documents the deleterious impact of suction dredging in the state, especially as it pertains to mercury disturbance as part of suction dredge mining for gold.

In a letter to the Senate Natural Resources Committee The Sierra Fund’s CEO Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin noted, “In light of the state’s budget crisis, we are very concerned that funding for this study will be slowed down, and the review could take many years. We are equally concerned that the well-documented impacts of suction dredging on water quality and endangered species will continue while this environmental review is underway, despite evidence of the harm of suction dredging.”   

For more information on the Karuk Tribe’s lawsuit, and the impact that suction dredging has on fish, contact:

S. Craig Tucker, Ph.D.
Klamath Campaign Coordinator
Karuk Tribe of California
530-627-3446 x3027

ctucker@karuk.us
www.karuk.us



Sample Letter:

Honorable Chair Fran Pavley
Senate Natural Resources Committee
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA  95814

Re:  Support SB 670

Dear Senator Pavley and Members of the Committee,

I am writing to urge your support for SB 670, introduced by Senator Pat Wiggins to put a moratorium on motorized dredge mining pending a full scientific review and update of rules. Your Board has a key role in protecting our state’s water, and we believe that you are right to be concerned about the impact of suction dredging on the state’s water and native fish.  This bill is scheduled to come before your committee on April 28, 2009.

Currently recreational dredge miners are damaging fisheries around the state by using motorized suction pumps to literally vacuum up our river beds and spawning grounds. The rules that govern this practice are woefully outdated.

California Department of Fish and Game was ordered by the California courts to undergo a CEQA review and rule change as a result of a Karuk Tribe lawsuit filed in 2005. The courts ordered DFG to complete the review and make appropriate rule changes by July 2008, but they have not met this deadline.

SB 670 would place a temporary moratorium on the issuance of dredge permits by the Department of Fish and Game until a thorough scientific review of the impacts is completed and regulations are revised.

Our native fish are going extinct and our water quality is being diminished on our watch. With SB 670 we can begin reverse this trend.

Sincerely,
Your name and organization

Cc:  Senator Wiggins
      Governor Schwarzenegger


 


Gold Mining, Mercury and Suction Dredging
Excerpts from “Minings Toxic Legacy” by
The Sierra Fund 2008

An estimated 26 million pounds of mercury were used to extract gold from ore in California, most of it in the Sierra Nevada Gold Country(1).   Of this, an estimated 10 million pounds were lost to the environment in placer mining operations and another 3 million pounds were lost from hard rock mining(2).  

Elemental mercury or “quick-silver” is still commonly encountered in Sierra watersheds. Recent studies by the Delta Tributary Mercury Council indicate that runoff and erosion from gold mines in the Sierra are a significant source of mercury to the Sacramento Delta(3).

In the suction dredging process miners remove gravels from the riverbed with a suction hose powered by an engine, and then use pans or other methods to retrieve the gold. Suction dredgers often encounter mercury and gold-mercury amalgam, which tend to fall into the cracks of the riverbed like gold.  Suction dredges re-suspend and “flour” mercury, increasing the surface area and making it more readily available for bacteria to methylate(4).

Dredgers collect the mercury and amalgam, and retort it or treat it with nitric acid to release any gold that may have amalgamated with the mercury.  They then recover the mercury and usually store it, though some miners dispose of it in an unauthorized manner, such as pouring it back into the river, onto the ground, or in to municipal sewer systems.

The full text of “Mining’s Toxic Legacy” can be downloaded from The Sierra Fund’s website:  www.sierrafund.org/campaigns/mining


(1)Alpers, C., P.  R Hunerlach, J. T.May, and  R. Hothem. (2005a). Mercury Contamination from Historical Gold Mining in California. U.S. Geological            Survey Fact Sheet 2005-3014

 (2)Churchill, R. K. (2000). Contributions of Mercury to California’s Environment from Mercury and Gold Mining Activities–Insights from the Historical Record. Extended abstracts forthe U.S. EPA-sponsored meeting, Assessing and Managing Mercury from Historic and Current Mining

(3)Delta Tributary Mercury Council. (2002). Strategic Plan for the Reduction of Mercury-Related Risk in the Sacramento River Watershed. DeltaTributary Mercury     Council http://www.sacriver.org/subcommittees/dtmc/documents/DTMCMercuryStrategyPlan.pdf.

(4)Humphreys,  R. (2005). Mercury Losses and Recovery during a Suction Dredge Test in the South Fork of the American River. California State Water Board Staff Report. Sacramento, CA.

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