The new Gold Rush

Why is the state spending taxpayers’ money so people can pollute the creeks?

Gold prices are way up this year, and the hills are full of latter-day 49ers dredging the creeks for the shiny stuff. You’ve probably seen them, with their diesel- or gasoline-engine pumps that float on large rafts. The pumps are like giant vacuum cleaners. They suck up sand, gravel and rocks and send them through a floating sluice box that separates out the heavier gold.

The problem is, these powerful dredges redistribute silt, which is harmful for fish at a time when the state’s fisheries are in decline and the commercial salmon-fishing industry is on life-support. They also disturb the mercury deposits that have lain in the creeks since Gold Rush days, sending the toxic metal downstream and causing a health hazard to animals and humans. No study has yet been done to assess the extent of the problem or propose mitigation measures.

In addition, the suction-dredging permitting program, which has allowed some 3,000 mining outfits to operate, costs the state far more than it generates in fees. It makes little sense to continue this expensive and problematic program targeted at a very small group of users when the state is facing closure of dozens of its state parks.

Both houses of the state Legislature have approved a bill, SB 670, that would place a temporary moratorium on suction-dredge mining in order to give the state Department of Fish and Game time to study its impacts on fisheries and public health, review the regulations and fees associated with it and develop a new, more balanced set of regulations.

The bill currently is on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk. He’s expected to act on it soon. Let him know—quickly—how you feel on the issue. Log onto