In 2009, The State of California made a decision that has been detrimental to the recreational mining industry in the state. With very little scientific evidence, they determined that suction dredging was detrimental to the environment, and they placed a 5-year moratorium on the practice.
While miners (along with most scientists who have studied the issue) feel that suction dredging has very limited and often beneficial impacts on waterways, the current law of the land is that suction dredges are not allowed in any California waters.
The suction dredging ban has had a huge impact on Californiaís mining community, including many miners who have invested thousands of dollars and depend on selling placer gold for a large part of their annual income. We are all hopeful that the powers-that-be in California will allow that suction dredging continue in future years, but for now the law of the land does not allow it.
Fortunately, there are alternatives methods that are still legally available to miners. While they may not be ideal in many situations, there are alternative options out there.
Most other types of mining equipment are still allowed to be used. The problem with most other methods is their inability to process significant amounts of gravel. Panning and sluicing are the most popular ways to prospect for gold, but you just canít process enough gravel to mine profitably on any significant scale.
Many miners since the ban have decided that using a highbanker is their best option. Rather than using suction to suck up gravels off the riverbed, a highbanker requires the miner to manually shovel material into a hopper which classifies out the larger rocks and runs the smaller gravels through a sluice box.
There are also non-motorized suction devices that can be used to suck material out of crevices, essentially by sniping bedrock cracks. While these are quite limited by the amount of material they can collect, you can still use them to high-grade the best areas that gold will accumulate.
We are all hopeful that the suction dredging ban in California will be overturned in the near future. During the hard economic times that this country is facing, and the high unemployment that already exists within the state, it is unbelievable that they would restrict the abilities of hard working gold miners to make an income from the natural resources in the state. Sadly, this kind of thinking seems to be persistent in California, and other states seem to be flirting with similar ideas as well.
It is important for all gold prospectors to voice their opinions and keep pressure on our elected officials. This country has vast natural resources, but they are worthless unless we are allowed to responsibly use them.