The State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) has recently released the proposed NPDES Suction Dredge Mining General Permit (General Permit) for public comments.  A virtual public workshop was held on May 28, 2020 with a virtual Public Hearing originally scheduled for June 17th.  The public hearing has now been rescheduled to August 5th with comments due by August 24th.  No action will be taken at this public hearing.  The State Water Board will schedule a meeting subsequent to the public hearing to consider adoption of the General Permit.  The proposed General Permit is available here.

Suction dredge mining has been statutorily prohibited in California since 2009.  While the Department adopted a comprehensive update of its suction dredge regulations in 2012 and suction dredge mining definition in 2014, with the 2015 passage of Senate Bill 637 (Allen), the California Fish and Game Code and Water Code were amended, expanding the definition of suction dredge mining and requiring miners to obtain a Department of Fish and Wildlife (Department) permit and any water quality permit or other authorization required by the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) to suction dredge mine in California.

The federal Clean Water Act section 402 requires that discharges of any pollutant or combination of pollutants from point sources to waters of the United States be regulated by a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.  The Department of Fish and Wildlife permit requires miners to obtain a Water Board permit or letter stating no such permit is required as part of the application. This has had the effect of continuing the moratorium until the Water Board takes one or more of the following actions provided by SB 637:

  • the adoption of waste discharge requirements or a waiver of such requirements; or
  • specifying certain conditions or areas where the discharge of waste or other adverse impacts on beneficial uses of the waters of the state from the use of vacuum or suction dredge equipment is prohibited; or
  • prohibit any particular use of, or methods of using, vacuum or suction dredge equipment, or any portion thereof, to extract minerals based on a determination generally that doing so will cause or contribute to an exceedance of applicable water quality objectives or unreasonably impact beneficial uses.

The proposed General Permit includes application package requirements, including a fee of $2,572 for the duration of the General Permit, implementation of best management practices that covers operations and site management, and discharge specifications and effluent limitations.

The proposed General Permit also prohibits suction dredge mining in watersheds within the Department’s regulation year-round prohibitions, any Clean Water Act (CWA) section 303d listed for mercury or metals, mercury concentrations above Objectives, and any areas subject to historic gold mining operations.  This in effect, limits suction dredge mining to areas not known to contain gold.  See Attachment G1 and G2 for maps of watersheds prohibited and permitted or suction dredge mining.

And although the statutory definition of suction dredge mining includes a wide variety of activities, the proposed statewide NPDES General Permit only provides the required regulatory coverage for mechanized and/or motorized dredge activities that take place in a waterbody, utilize a single intake suction nozzle, and directly discharge to a surface water of the United States.

RCRC is soliciting comments from our member counties regarding the proposed General Permit.  Please forward any comments or questions to Mary Pitto at or phone (209) 674-8001.