IDAHO EPA gets restrictive on dredgers, very restrictive.

Idaho gold miners  frustrated by new EPA permit


2013-08-24T13:30:00Z Idaho gold miners  frustrated by new EPA permitBy BRIAN SMITH Times-News
August 24, 2013 1:30 pm  •  By BRIAN SMITH Times-News

TWIN FALLS, Idaho – Prospectors hoping to pluck gold from the bottom of Idaho’s rivers face many obstacles.

First there’s water and earth to move. Then there’s the suction dredge they must haul to the river and pull against the current. Not to mention finding an unclaimed stream that hasn’t had all its gold nabbed. Be sure, too, you’ve got your state permit.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget the hot dogs, tents and your permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ensuring you’re not violating the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act.

That last one is a head-scratcher to Brad Dey, president of the Snake River Chapter of the Gold Prospectors Association of America. The state permit has worked well for decades, he said. It was a hoop to jump through, but it wasn’t a burden.

“Unfortunately, there’s no more hoop; they’ve just completely shut it off,” he said of the new EPA permit required since May.

The permit is necessary to protect water quality, preserve the habitat of Idaho’s endangered species and comply with the Clean Water Act, say EPA officials and conservationists.

Angry miners aren’t correctly thinking about the permit that the Idaho Conservation League pushed the EPA to implement here, said Justin Hayes, the league’s program director. It is a shield that gives them a legal and environmental certainty for their exploration, Hayes said.

Many miners, though, say the permit – a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit – is a federal overreach, creates a lengthy and complicated process and closes or restricts many popular gold streams. It is keeping many miners from doing what they love, Dey said.


Of the 911 suction dredgers with state permits, 60 have obtained EPA location-specific permits.

It’s been an interesting few months, said Tracy DeGering, Boise-based EPA environmental scientist.

She said the many calls and emails she’s fielded make her think gold miners misunderstand the permit. Yes, it’s more restrictive and robust, DeGering said, but the agency is not maliciously targeting miners.

“A lot of miners think we are picking on them and nobody else. It goes back to the Clean Water Act, and the discharge of pollutants requires a permit.”

The Clean Water Act stipulates that “point source discharges of pollutants into waters” require permits, DeGering said.

Gold suction dredges are floating vacuums that suck up and spit out dirt and water, leaving flakes of gold behind. The Clean Water Act defines them as point sources and the rock and sand as pollutants. Idaho was one of the last states to implement EPA dredging regulations through the NPDES process.

The state gold-dredging permit is akin to a fishing license, said Aaron Golart, coordinator of the stream protection program in the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

Miners apply, agree to comply with state rules and observe its list of open, seasonally restricted and closed rivers. They are allowed to use a motor of 15 horsepower or less and a nozzle no more than 5 inches wide. They are not allowed to affect the riverbanks, Golart said.


Riding the rising price of gold, more and more miners have been asking for state permits, Golart said. From April 2007 to March 2008, as the price of gold hit $750 an ounce, the state issued 550 permits. It issued 911 permits from April 2012 to March 2013, when the price hit $1,500 an ounce.

The NPDES permitting system wasn’t implemented because of increased mining or any EPA-documented issue, DeGering said.

It’s all centered on enforcement of the Clean Water Act and the Idaho Conservation League’s threat to sue the EPA for not regulating miners’ discharge, Hayes said. Those threats came from meetings between the EPA and the League, Hayes said.

In 2010, the EPA issued a first draft of the permit and its regulations, DeGering said. Officials took comments, held meetings and eventually issued a second draft permit in 2012. This April, the permit was finalized.

Because the permit overlaps with waters containing endangered and threatened species – bull trout, steelhead, sturgeon, sockeye salmon, Chinook salmon and various snails – the EPA coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“If a suction dredge is in the stream at a time when we have eggs in the gravel . it’s easy to imagine suction dredge mining interrupting endangered fish and probably killing eggs,” said David Mabe, Idaho director for the Fisheries Service.

If a miner wants to dredge in critical habitat, DeGering said, he must obtain an Endangered Species Act consultation – a lengthy process examining where and when a miner could work and not affect species of concern, such as not dredging during spawning season.

The EPA and other agencies have approved regulated dredging of Lolo Creek and Moose Creek in northern Idaho.

Twin Falls resident Jim Kepner bought his used 3-inch, 5.5-horsepower dredge for $500. New dredges cost up to $4,000. But Kepner’s dredge has sat unused in his garage for two years.

He and several other miners bought a claim on the Payette River for $2,000 but were denied access to it when the EPA’s permitting started because of critical habitat for bull trout, he said.

“We’re out $2,000, and nobody is going to buy it from us now,” he said.

Kepner recently received an EPA permit to dredge along the Snake River near American Falls. His hopes aren’t high, though. He said many of the rivers with the best gold now are EPA-regulated or off-limits because of critical habitat and endangered species.


Idaho is a big state, and miners can hide in remote areas. But when they are found, the courts won’t look favorably on their activities, Hayes said. Under the Clean Water Act, environmental groups can act as enforcement agents and send a 60-day notice of intent to sue the EPA in hopes of compelling the agency into action.

“We did that a year and a half ago with a small gold mine in the town of Atlanta (in Elmore County), and their failure to comply … has resulted in a $2 million penalty for them,” he said.

So far, the EPA hasn’t filed charges against illegal dredgers, instead focusing on education and outreach, said Jim Werntz, operations office director for the EPA in Idaho.

EPA is working through growing pains with the permit and hopes to approve permits more quickly, DeGering said.

“We want folks to apply and ask questions and be patient with us.”

(2) Comments

  1. idiot state                                                                                                                        
    Report Abuse                                                                
    idiot state                                                                                                                                                                                                         – August 25, 2013 8:25 am                                                                                                                        
    What Obama can’t pass through Congress or declare law through one of his special “executive orders” he passes on to federal administrators to design, make up as they go along. No restrictions are too restrictive for government bureaucracies, and the EPA is more drunk than ever on its own power.
  2. RPT                                                                                                                        
    Report Abuse                                                                
    RPT                                                                                                                                                                                                         – August 24, 2013 5:07 pm                                                                                                                        
    The Endangered Species Act is the engine of social change being used by environmental elitists to destroy rural America.  The wildlife that they pretend to care so much about are nothing more than tools of conquest to them. The unwitting allies of these destructive change agents are the uninformed urban masses who add their political clout to the big bucks of elitist foundations to arm this War against the West.
    There are many species on the endangered list but most of the attention and money goes to just a few of them and  those are either  fish or predators.   This is because fish and predators:
    excite the public imagination more and are therefore good fundraisers and salescreatures for preservation. can lock up more land because they have large habitat requirements. The rest of the species on the list are mostly ignored until necessary to use them to stop some specific project.

    It’s not the job of these parasite,anti-hunting,anti-wildlife environmental terrorist groups to GIVE money for conservation..It’s their goal to TAKE money out of the system anyway possible… Especially to entice the most gullible among us to hit the ‘Donate Here’ option on their websites as often and as many times as possible. They have no skin in the game and are the cause of much of the filth,rot,waste and decay that we are seeing in our society today.

One thought on “IDAHO EPA gets restrictive on dredgers, very restrictive.”

  1. Our Legislatures and Regulators are out of control on all levels. They go beyond both scientific evidence and common sense to come up with their unnecessary rules. In California,it has been proven that dredging loosens the hard-pack improving the fish habitat…by the regulators own taxpayer funded studies. Their dredging seasons for each area or specific waterway insured that dredging would not be done during spawning season. They also ignored their studies that showed the levels of mercury in the waterways were not creating any problems with consuming fish. In California they just banned dredging in 2009 because the Environmental Whaco’s and the Indian Casino’s have more clout with the legislators than the rest of us have.

    In California they are will not be content until we are confined to some little parcel of Urban Habitat. It is becoming clear that they are closing access roads that will restrict all kinds of recreation…including prospecting, hunting, fishing, hiking,…!!! They have a bunch of gun and ammunition laws that are unnecessary….If implemented almost all of them insure that crime will rise. They restrict the law abiding persons from legally protecting themselves, which gives advantge to the criminals which don’t follow any of the laws.

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