This is our formal letter to the California Water Board on the SB637 permitting scheme. We presented 4 times for small miners during this required process of public comments. We want to thank everyone who attended these meetings and provided input. A special thank you to Craig Lindsay of Western Mining Alliance for disputing the altered science used to pass this bill and Robert Guardiola for his testimony on Mining Districts.
February 19, 2017
California Regional Water Quality Control Board
Attn: Russell Norman
1001 I Street, 15th Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Mr. Norman,
Please accept this as our formal follow up letter to our testimony on behalf of the thousands of small-scale miners we represented during the public meetings held in January and February of 2017 on suction dredging and SB637’s permitting scheme.
As we stated numerous times, we firmly believe that suction dredging is de minimis and has been misrepresented in both the Fleck Report and in the 2012 EIR released by DFG. The Fleck Report was altered to exclude specific and related data. As Craig Lindsay of the Western Mining Alliance has proven, they excluded the first study performed with an actual suction dredge which showed no mercury in the suspended solids all the while mercury did collect in the sluice box. The other study was deliberately performed to mislead the reader and obtain a specific outcome by performing the study on a bench placer which was far above the water line, hand-digging a pit, using recirculated water and a crash-box style header. This flawed process of repeatedly running the same material through the impeller of the water pump and through the crash box countless hundreds of thousands of times; thus, flouring the mercury, resulted in inaccurate, unrealistic and dishonest numbers as a suction dredge on the river only passes the water and material through one single time. After several hundred thousand cycles through their deceptive testing system, they were sure to get the results they sought. Our systems are nothing like their destructive and damning model. This is not a true representation of how a suction dredge operates by any stretch of the imagination.
As we demonstrated in the video we played at the Sacramento meeting of a modern 4” suction dredge, there are no turbines which grind up fish or methylate mercury, there is only an open flow of water and gravels which then gently glide over the riffles in a sluice box. So gently in fact that when we ran apples and pears through the nozzle, up the hose and out the sluice box, not one piece of fruit was even bruised. We showed that the hoses we use for suction dredging are the very same hoses the Department of Fish and Game use to pump fish into their trucks for stocking of fish into rivers and lakes. In fact, we purchase them from the same manufacturer.
We challenged the participants in the meetings to show us where the “discharge of pollutants” is discharged. The reason nobody can point to the source of a discharge of pollutants is because it does not exist. Suction dredging lifts material from the bottom of a water body, cleans those gravels and simply deposits those same gravels a few feet away from where they originated from. There is no addition or introduction of pollutants at any time during the process. What does occur is that 98 to 99% of mercury is collected and 98 to 99% of lead is collected and removed from California’s waters. Common sense would tell anyone this is not just a good thing, but something which should be actively encouraged. The United States Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader-Ginsberg, used an excellent analogy in reference to discharges into waters of the United States with her “soup pot theory”. This analogy, which came from the South Florida Water Management District v Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, later cited in the Los Angeles County Flood Control District v Natural Resources Defense Council stated if you dip a ladle into a pot of soup, lift it up and pour it right back in, do you pollute? The answer is no, and this is why they ruled 9-0 in this case. Suction dredges do not pollute period, they move gravels, after cleaning them, to a new location about 20 feet away. Modern suction dredges do not discharge, according to this ruling.
The process of suction dredging loosens gravels and creates fish habitat. This is evidenced by the examples we provided of various states, Federal agencies and fisheries across America dredging to “create” fish habitat. As we demonstrated, a simple Google search using a search term of “dredging to create fish habitat” displays numerous projects all across America over the past 5 years to create fish habitat using a suction dredge. Currently, Idaho DFG is actively dredging a lake to create fish habitat at Wilson Springs.
There are arguments trotted out endlessly about how the opposition to suction dredging doesn’t want the dredgers to suck up redds. Since 1994, this has not been allowed as the rivers of California are categorized in geographic zones with specific dates in which one can operate a suction dredge. If one looks at the geographical location of the mining claims in California, one will see that the vast majority of claims in the state are not on waterways which have anadromous fish. We are asking the CAWB to perform a study or provide data to show specifically what that ratio is of claims on anadromous fish waterways, and which claims are not. AMRA has over 40 claims in California alone, not a single one has anadromous fish, not one. Claims which have no anadromous fish should not be considered in the same category as claims with anadromous fish.
There is not one documented case of mercury contaminated fish coming from any California waterway poisoning a human, not one. In fact, since the suction dredge ban in 2009, mercury levels have risen. It defies logic why anyone would not want 98-99% of the mercury removed from our rivers, lakes, streams, irrigation and drinking water, unless the motivation is financial in nature in lieu of protecting the environment.
In the Fleck report, as stated above, the study which was performed using an actual suction dredge was excluded from the report because it did not show the outcome they desired. It did not show any mercury attached to suspended solids. We presented evidence on the mercury collection program of the early 2000’s where suction dredgers were encouraged to turn in their mercury after suction dredging and this program was wildly successful. “So successful that it was stopped” in the words of Dr. Carrie Monahan of The Sierra Fund. Nearly 250lbs of mercury was collected at that single event. This is a far cry from the 2 grams of mercury collected by The Sierra Fund with the Lake Combie mercury collection scheme using tax payer funds. Bring this program back, have the suction dredgers clean our waterways and turn in the mercury at the end of the season. This does not cost the state 6 million dollars in absurd Combie Reservoir schemes, it generates revenue for the state with the permitting fees and the tens of millions of dollars spent by the miners in rural communities during the mining season.
Economic impacts to California:
Credit: Tom Kitchar, President Waldo Mining District, Josephine OR.
Based on data from surveys in California, the 2001 SNF (Siskiyou National Forest) DEIS stated that “…the average investment in suction dredge equipment… was approximately 6,000 dollars.” Using a conservative estimate for depreciation of 10 years yields an average of $600 a year (for 10 years). The DEIS also stated the miners dredged on average 35 days a year. Using those figures:
PER YEAR 10 YEARS
AVERAGE INVESTMENT (EQUIPT.) PER YEAR: $600 $6,000
AVERAGE LIVING EXPENSES: $6,250 $62,500
AVERAGE OPERATING EXPENSES: $3,000 $30,000
TOTALS FOR EACH MINER: $9,850 $98,500
TOTALS FOR 100 MINERS: $985,000 $9,850,000
(Note that the dollars given were mid 1990’s dollars)
With adjustments for inflation and to make the math simple we can conservatively assume that the average suction dredge miner in 2016 (if allowed to operate) would spend $10,000 a year, and each 100 dredgers would spend $1,000,000 per year.
The DEIS did not (and could not) give data concerning the value of the gold recovered. However, working on the assumption that the average dredger dredges 35 days a year and using a spot price of gold at $1,200/oz:
PER DAY 35 DAYS
1. And recovers on average 1/5 ounce per day = $240 $8,400
2. And recovers on average 1/4 ounce per day = $300 $10,500
3. And recovers on average 1/2 ounce per day = $600 $21,000
TOTALS (EXPENSES + VALUE OF GOLD): If the average suction dredge miner spends $10,000 a year on equipment, living & operating expenses, and recovers:
A. $8400 worth of gold, the average suction dredge miner contributes approximately $18,400 to the (mostly local) economy; X 100 = 1,840,000
B. $10,000 worth of gold contributes $20,000; X 100 = 2,000,000
C. $21,000 worth of gold contributes $31,000; X 100 = 3,100,000
If we apply these figures to the number of suction dredge mining permits issued by DEQ using an average of 1,800 permits a year (estimated conservative average through the 1990’s up to 2005):
$18,400 X 1800 permitted miners = $33,120,000
$20,000 X 1800 permitted miners = $36,000,000
$31,000 X 1800 permitted miners = $55,800,000
Based on the above figures, it is estimated that 1,800 permitted suction dredge miners in 2017 would contribute between $33M to $55M a year to the economy.
2 Estimated conservative annual average based on data from DEQ (highest year was 2004/05 when DEQ issued 1,984 permits).
Rural communities are severely harmed from ideological policies being passed without honest scientific proof, or with the normal, vague verbiage of “may, might, could, possibly, potentially” harm something, somewhere at some time. There used to be a time when facts were facts and science was not altered or excluded for an outcome and something which was truly beneficial, not just to the communities, but the environment was embraced. The overall contribution to the California economy from suction dredging is higher than these numbers indicate. The rural communities relied on this revenue from small miners, and for 8 years now of this “temporary” moratorium, these communities and businesses have been devastated. Businesses have closed, towns are shuttered and this ban is having deep economic impacts on families. We are asking CAWB to perform an independent study on the financial impact the moratorium and this permitting scheme is having, and will have on the State of California annually and more specifically, we would like to know how this has impacted the Mother Lode communities in lost revenue, how it has affected the small businesses and tax revenue generated previously in property and sales taxes lost revenue.
As I write this today, Sunday, February 19, 2017, a notice just came out that they are closing the road over the Lake Don Pedro dam because of flooding and the reservoir being at 100% of capacity. The City of Redding has many homes under water and the Oroville dam washed a giant portion of the mountain side away after the waters went over the never-used emergency spill way, threatening and forcing the evacuation of over 100,000 residents downstream. There is a flood warning for the San Francisco Bay Area, the Santa Cruz Mountains and all throughout the Mother Lode. Yesterday, I drove from Sacramento, across the Delta and over to Martinez. The Delta is flooded over the banks and the bay in Martinez is the color of chocolate milk due to this current weather event.
The turbidity argument is laughable if it was not so serious with its ideological impacts and flaws. A modern 4” suction dredge creates a small plume which lasts for approximately 50 feet, then settles. For those of us who have dredged for a long time, we know where all the fish will be (if there are even fish in the water we dredge), they are at the end of the sluice box snatching up all the morsels that we stir up. If turbidity is so bad from dredging, why aren’t all the fish in the state of California dead right now with the epic turbidity Mother Nature is creating? Some of this turbidity is hundreds of miles long (American River and Feather River drainages).
We do not believe any new permitting scheme needs to be created for SB637 as evidenced by the facts, science and the truth. We know that data has been intentionally manipulated to serve an ideological outcome and financial gain. We know that we do not harm fish, or fish habitat. We know that we help the environment with the removal of dangerous, toxic contaminants like lead and mercury in quantities which should be the goal and objective of every environmental organization. We know that the rural communities are suffering immensely as a result of these unwarranted, and illogical financial schemes. We know Mother Nature is far better at scouring the river beds and creating much more turbidity in one storm event than all of the suction dredges ever manufactured combined.
We are recommending we stay with a standard 404 permit with the ACOE (Army Corps of Engineers) for all suction dredges and firmly believe the very idea of another layer of bureaucracy and permits to regulate an environmental and community benefit is not just a bad idea, but detrimental to our county’s national security. We vehemently believe, and that Federal law, facts and science support us, that a permit should not be required, in any way, shape or form, as a part of SB637.
Once again, we are always available any time to come to the CAWB and actually demonstrate how a suction dredge really works with one of our large 1000 gallon tanks and an actual dredge for the 5 Board of Directors within the California Water Board.
Mr. Shannon Poe
President, AMRA, American Mining Rights Association
PMB #607, 6386 Greeley Hill Road
Coulterville CA 95311