4/29/2011 Suction dredging may hit bottom in a watershed near you
This March, the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) released a Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) assessing California's (currently suspended) Suction Dredge Permitting Program. Comments from the public regarding the document and proposed amendments to suction dredging regulations are due by 5 p.m. April 29, 2011.

A suction dredge is essentially a supersized underwater vacuum cleaner that recreational miners use to suck up material from river bottoms, stream beds, or lake beds. The vacuum removes river bottom or lake bed sediment via a large hose, passes the material through a recovery or separation system that extracts gold and other heavy materials, and then spews remaining material back into the stream, river or lake.

The California legislature and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called a temporary halt to suction dredging in August 2009 out of concern for the state's salmon runs. The Draft SEIR addresses potential environmental effects of the permitting program, which was suspended pending completion of the review, and proposes amendments to the pre-moratorium regulations. Before the moratorium, the California DFG issued an average of approximately 3,200 suction dredging permits per year in the state of California.

In addition to proposing a revised program, the document also evaluates the potential impacts of four alternatives: a No Program Alternative (continuation of the existing moratorium), a 1994 Regulations Alternative (continuation of previous regulations in effect prior to the 2008 moratorium), a Water Quality Alternative (which would include additional program restrictions for water bodies listed as impaired for sediment and mercury pursuant to the Clean Water Act, section 303(d)), and a Reduced Intensity Alternative (which would include greater restrictions on permit issuance and methods of operation to reduce the intensity of environmental effects).

The document also acknowledges some of the significant and unavoidable impacts of suction dredging, which include discharges of mercury into water downstream, resuspension and discharge of other potentially toxic materials, and unavoidable disturbance of riparian wildlife, including special-status bird species.

The Draft SEIR and supporting documents are now available on the DFG website at

and can be provided upon request by calling (530) 225-2275. Copies of the Draft SEIR are also available for review at DFG regional offices including:

Region 1 601 Locust St., Redding
Region 2 1701 Nimbus Road, Suite A, Rancho Cordova
Region 3 7329 Silverado Trail, Napa
Region 4 1234 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno
Region 5 4949 Viewridge Ave., San Diego
Region 6 3602 Inland Empire Blvd., Suite C-220, Ontario
Region 6 4665 Lampson Avenue, Suite J, Los Alamitos (second location)
Region 7 20 Lower Ragsdale Drive, Suite 100, Monterey HQ 1807 13th St., Suite 104, Sacramento

Written comments will also be accepted through April 29, 2011 at 5 p.m. Comments may be submitted by e-mail to or by regular mail to:

Mark Stopher
California Department of Fish and Game
601 Locust St.
Redding, CA 96001

Comments received by the due date will be included in the final SEIR to be prepared for the Director of DFG.

For more information about the suction dredge program, visit If you need a copy of the Draft SEIR in an alternate format, please contact the Suction Dredge Program at (530) 225-2275 or the California Relay (Telephone) Service for the deaf or hearing-impaired from TDD phones at 1-800-735-2929 or 711.

Contacts:   Phone: