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House Considers Regulations for Mining

Photo courtesy of Stephen Harris via Flickr

The Washington State House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee took testimony Tuesday on efforts to regulate small scale mining operations

Washington State is one place where small scale mining operations can use suction dredging with few limitations. That’s a process that uses an underground vacuum cleaner to suck up stream bed material and separates gold out from that gravel.

Currently operators only have to adhere to recommendations in a pamphlet issued by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Now two house bills are proposing that the Department of Ecology regulate the miners, by requiring permits that would have some restrictions on when and where they can dredge, and keep track of where they use suction dredging.

Testimony at the hearing included miners, like Bruce Batey, who said such mining does not harm fish in the waterways because it is not adding anything to the water that wasn’t already there, and gave a quote he attributed to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, “If one takes a ladle of soup from a pot, and pours the soup back into the pot, one has not added anything else to the pot, this is what happens when one uses a suction dredge and puts in back into the creek or river.”

Fly Fishing guide Derek Young testified that the suction dredging does have a negative impact on fish eggs that are deposited in steam bed gravel, “I have personally observed suction dredge operations being done and left in streams for more than 30 days that have completely wiped out the stream bed, covering over 100 percent of fish that might be in that system. Again you’re talking about dramatically changing the streambed in which fish lay their eggs and incubate, and that habitat is gone.”

One person who testified at the hearing from the environmental group Cascadia Wildlands, says his organization has notified the state of its intent to sue in 60 days if new regulations are not enacted to regulate suction dredge mining.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.