BOISE, Idaho — Anyone who wants to mine gold in Idaho streams with a suction dredge will need to get a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Suction dredge mining has been a popular pursuit in many Western states. For years, people have flocked to a Idaho’s Salmon River to mine for gold. Many of them have used a suction dredge to extract the precious metal from the gravel and silt on the river bottom. Until now, the EPA didn’t require these modern day prospectors to get permission if they used small-scale dredges.
But the EPA’s state director Jim Werntz said that had to change. A big reason: mining stirs up sediment that harms salmon along the river’s entire stretch.
“You have critical habitat for several species in that area and we couldn’t, basically couldn’t keep that area open under the general permit coverage,” Werntz said.
The EPA came up with its new permit because it had determined that without it, the agency was allowing people to violate the Clean Water Act. That was the position of environmental groups, including the Idaho Conservation League, which filed a lawsuit alleging that the EPA had been failing to apply the Clean Water Act’s requirements to suction dredge mining in Idaho.
The EPA says many waters in Idaho are already closed to suction dredge mining because of existing state and other federal designations. The agency says its new permit is meant to protects additional waters, including those with threatened and endangered salmon, steelhead, white sturgeon and bull trout, as well as waters within tribal reservations.
Anyone wanting a permit can apply for one now. There will not be an application fee. The EPA will hold workshops in the coming weeks to help explain the new permit.