Suction dredge mining is the practice of using an in-stream, floating, gas-powered vacuum that sucks up the river bottom and runs the sediment through a mechanized sluice. Since California imposed a moratorium on the practice in 2009, new permit requests for dredge mining in Oregon, where rivers and streams have remained largely unregulated and under-patrolled, has more than doubled according to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
The dramatic uptick in permits and dredge mining has initiated substantial push-back: Fisherman and scientists have registered concerns about spawning beds and increased turbidity; citizens who live or play along Oregon’s waterways have complained of noise and stream-shore blight; and local recreation businesses and their customers complain of the adverse effects on this practice to their outdoor experience.
To respond to the growing discord, there are three bills before the legislature:
SB401 expands the State Scenic Waterway Act (increasing the amount of Oregon waterways classified under the program from a third of a percent to half a percent) thereby limiting where dredge mining could occur. SB370 would impose both permitting regulations and a $125 fee for suction dredging — the fee would create revenues for enforcement of mining regulations; and SB115 would be an outright ban.
It’s understandable that some feel it’s their right to dredge mine Oregon’s rivers and streams; it’s just as understandable that Oregonians don’t want their livelihoods and property values adversely impacted by suction dredging. Perhaps erring on the side of the long-term health of our most vulnerable waterways is the more prudent course.