Dredge Drag

Hello All,
Have you heard that S B 670 has passed committee on fast track to be voted upon? It needs a 2/3 rds majority which will pull all suction dredgers off all rivers in Ca. until a through scientific study can be conducted on Salmon spawning and Mercury levels.
This is more fear hype that could cripple our local economy to death.What can we do?
I love Salmon not mercury...I feel that modern Aqua culture has more to do with hurting Salmon spawn . The river below Sac. have no dredge's and the Salmon are not returning there. The Salmon have been interrupted in BC where the farm salmon are grown in open Ocean pens. Genetic contamination...ect.
Lets find out more and get on this,
Thanks ,
Mary Davey

Thank you, Mary,

Senate bill 670 moves to put a moratorium on suction dredging. A suit won by the Karuk tribe in 2005 resulted in court direction to the California Department of Fish and Game to do studies and craft rules protecting fish and other aquatic life. The CDFG hasn’t done that; this bill would stop suction dredging until they do. The Fish and Game claim they have no money for the project.

The bill has foes and supporters; the supporters are generally bambi lovers like the Sierra Club; opponents are money grubbers like government and business groups.

The meat of the matter is the suction dredge, which pulls sand, gravel, small rocks and so on up into a sluice where gold is, hopefully, removed. The dredge disturbs and redistributes sediment on the bottom of the stream, taking it down to bedrock if the miner is lucky. This disturbs some of the 13 million pounds of mercury left in the streams and rivers by the gold miners of 150 years ago. Rivers and streams throughout the gold bearing west have this problem; the Carson River in Nevada is so filthy with mercury it has been ‘mined’ for it; many locals won’t eat trout from the river.

The mercury isn’t always "quick silver", shiny silver metal, though sometimes it is. More often it is found amalgamated with other metals or "methylated" by bacteria into a dangerous, more easily suspended form. The disturbance of the sediment harms spawning fish, and the mercury harms everyone.

The problem is, no one knows how much harm is done or what mitigating factors there might be. Environmentalists hope that the new science will end suction dredging, thereby making it safer for bean curd farting, ipod bearing downstaters to see how pretty the river is. Dredging groups and even the Siskiyou Board of Supervisors feel the science won’t change the rules that much and miners can continue to vacuum our rivers and scowl at fishermen, who mostly support the bill.

The law in California is currently among the most lenient in the west, which might not be a bad thing. If SB670 passes and is signed, California would be one of the most restrictive, for a little while. The bill is fast tracked and if the governor signs it, this dredging season is gone, taking with it a few more local businesses.

The Sierra County Prospect has not taken a position. Gold and gold dredging are the heart of Sierra County, and the folks who come to dredge spend a little money locally, unlike other kinds of tourists, according to some local businesses. One common sense approach might be to pay placer miners to turn in mercury when they find it; it has been suggested that sluice miners do more to remove mercury from the environment than the government does, or plans to. The ideal plan for the mercury is nothing, let it get covered over with sediment, but nature doesn’t really work like that, streambeds are often overturned.

For now, this bill is a done deal unless some unforeseen player enters the ring. Since the bill is only temporary, it doesn’t sound so bad to most people; since the "temporaryness" depends on the State to do something right, it might well be forever.

If you have a position, call your representatives (see the representatives page).

The Sierra Club version is here.

We present it, but don’t necessarily agree with it.

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