Safeguards for fish, water quality head to Governor’s desk



Crystal Elliot, Trout Unlimited Washington Habitat Director, or (509) 386-7768

Tom Uniack, Washington Wild Executive Director, 206-369-1252

Safeguards for fish, water quality head to Governor’s desk

Bill just approved by legislature would update regulations for motorized suction dredging in habitat for endangered fish species. 

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington residents can soon expect water quality improvements and greater protections for critical wild fish populations from effects of suction dredge mining. Following the same action by the House, today the Washington Senate approved a bill titled, ‘Ensuring Compliance with the Federal Clean Water Act by Prohibiting Certain Discharges into Waters of the State,’ ESHB 1261, which will ban suction dredge mining in critical habitat designated under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for threatened or endangered salmon, steelhead, and bull trout.

The bill passed the Washington State Senate by a bipartisan vote of 37 – 10. The legislation will now move to Governor Inslee’s desk who is expected to sign the legislation into law. If signed, the bill will take effect later this year.

“For years, we’ve had enormous taxpayer investment in restoring water quality and fish habitat while we let outdated motorized suction dredge mining laws needlessly threaten our most sensitive fish populations. Today, our lawmakers remedied this glaring oversight in our regulations,” said Crystal Elliot, Washington Habitat Director for Trout Unlimited, which has led the statewide coalition to address this issue.

The measure will bring Washington into compliance with the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act and in line with court-backed regulations in neighboring states including Oregon, California, Idaho, and Montana. 

“This legislation is a common-sense reform to protect habitat and water quality in areas of Washington State most critical to the recovery of salmon and steelhead. I appreciate the support for this bill from all over the State,” said Sen. Jesse Salomon (D – 32nd, Shoreline), sponsor of SB 6149, the Senate companion bill to HB 1261. 

“I am glad to see the legislature approve these protections of critical habitat for salmon, steelhead, and bull trout from the harmful impacts of motorized mining. I appreciate the broad support of the bill from all parts of Washington State from recreational fishing and environmental groups, local governments, businesses, and Indian tribes. As a lifelong fly fisherman, I’m proud to support this commonsense approach that protects habitat and ensures compliance with the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act,” said House sponsor of HB 1261, Rep. Strom Peterson (D-21st, Edmonds).

This legislation received support from a broad coalition of more than 160 businesses, non-profit organizations and faith-based groups. Native American tribes from across Washington State, including the Quinault Indian Nation, Snoqualmie Tribe, Yakama Nation, Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, Tulalip Tribes, and others also supported the bill. 

“We have spent years working to raise awareness of this outdated practice that destroys sensitive habitat to benefit a small number of hobbyist miners,” said Robert de los Angeles, Chairman of the Snoqualmie Tribe. “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.”

Suction dredge mining is a form of mineral prospecting that uses gas-powered dredges to vacuum up rocks, gravel, and sediment from the bottom of creeks and rivers to search for gold. Proven impacts of suction dredge mining include erosion and sedimentation, mobilization of mercury and other heavy metals, increase in water temperatures, water contamination, habitat destruction, as well as physical impacts to fish eggs, juvenile fish, invertebrates, and other aquatic organisms. 

Washington’s water quality and fisheries resources are critical to the state economy, amounting to $4.5 billion annually for the state. However, wild salmon and steelhead populations continue to decline, says the State’s recently released State of the Salmon in Watersheds report.  

Spokespeople from other supportive entities also issued the following statements: 

 “We applaud the leadership of the House and Senate and overwhelming vote by both chambers of the legislature to pass this important legislation to protect critical habit for salmon and steelhead. Protecting existing habitat benefits our fish, fishing jobs, and starving orca,” said Jesse Piedfort, Washington Chapter Director of the Sierra Club.

“From Walla Walla to Bellingham and Longview to Spokane Valley a diverse group of stakeholders have come together like few times before by demanding motorized suction dredge mining reform in Washington State,” said Tom Uniack, Executive Director for Washington Wild, who coordinated the letter signed by 142 stakeholders which was sent to each member of the State Legislature. “That diverse and broad support paid dividends as these reforms will protect our collective decades-long investment in salmon recovery for current and future generations.”

“Trout Unlimited is working hard in the Central Cascades and across the state on habitat restoration projects, and these efforts are being undermined by inadequate regulation of suction dredge mining,” said Pat Hesselgesser, Trout Unlimited’s Washington Advocacy Chair and member of the Yakima Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “We are glad to see this issue addressed head-on to improve protections for these struggling fish populations.”

“Leavenworth has a thriving tourist economy built on the back of our incredible landscape and natural environment in the Central Cascades,” said Jason Lundgren, Leavenworth City Council Member. “It is critical that we balance the needs of society and protection of our natural environment here in Leavenworth, or both will suffer. We are so happy to see this approved for the sake of our ESA-listed salmon and steelhead in the Upper Columbia.”


Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. Follow TU on Facebook,Twitter, and Instagram and our blog for all the latest information on trout and salmon conservation.