Unprecedented Progress on Suction Dredge Mining Reform

Bill Passes Senate to Protect Aquatic Habitat from Dangerous Practice


SNOQUALMIE, WA – After years of advocating for regulatory reform of suction dredge mining activity in Washington State’s streams and rivers, the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe is celebrating progress in Olympia that could result in successful legislation this year. Washington State has the most lax regulations on suction dredging of anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. A bill that would put in place more stringent regulations on the practice, SB 5322, passed the Washington State Senate on March 4, 2019 – the first time in history suction dredge mining reform has passed either house of the Legislature after many previous attempts.   

 “We have spent years working to raise awareness of this outdated practice that destroys sensitive habitat to benefit a small number of hobbyist miners, so it is extremely gratifying to see that our State leaders are listening and embracing policies that are more consistent with all of our neighboring states,” says Robert de los Angeles, Snoqualmie Tribal Chairman.  

Suction dredging is a mining method generally utilized by individual hobbyist miners in which the bed of a public stream, lake, saltwater beach or river is vacuumed up and processed using a gas-powered motor to search for fragments of precious metals, such as gold. The mining causes erosion and sedimentation in streams, which can smother fish eggs and invertebrates.  

An outlier amongst states with Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead, Washington has some of the most lax regulations for suction dredging in the nation, where the activity is being conducted all over the state with absolutely no fees collected, no permits issued, and no tracking. Due to proven impacts to fish habitat caused by suction dredging, California banned the activity in 2009, Oregon’s legislature codified severe limitations in 2017, and Idaho regulates it strictly under the Clean Water Act.  

If passed by the House and signed by Governor Inslee, SB 5322 will require miners to obtain an NPDES permit from the Washington Department of Ecology before mining in the many waters of the State that are home to populations of endangered fish such as Chinook salmon. Chinook and other salmon species support economically and culturally important tribal and commercial fisheries, and are seen as critical to the survival of the Southern Resident Killer Whales.  

Since 2014, the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, Trout Unlimited, and other supporters have advocated for a legislative fix to the lack of meaningful regulation of suction dredge mining in Washington. Before the current session, the legislation had never been voted out of committee. This year though, SB 5322 made it to the Senate floor for a vote, where it passed on March 4th. The bill is now in the House, where a vote is expected later this month.  

“We are optimistic that SB 5322 will pass during the upcoming House floor vote. We will then be that much closer to bringing Washington into compliance with federal laws including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act,” says de los Angeles. “The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe thanks those legislators who have supported our work to achieve these common-sense protections for our salmon.”  

The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe is a federally recognized tribe in King County of Washington State. Known as the People of the Moon, Snoqualmie were signatories to the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855. For more information visit www.snoqualmietribe.us