Wash. Suction dredge reform passes State House, moves to Senate


Contact: Crystal Elliot-Perez, Trout Unlimited Washington Habitat Director, celliot@tu.org or (509) 386-7768

Suction dredge reform passes State House, moves to Senate
Bill approved by State House would update regulations for recreational mining using motorized suction dredging in habitat for endangered species.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Last night, Washington State Representatives approved legislation aimed at improving water quality and protecting wild fish populations from effects of suction dredge mining. The bill, Ensuring Compliance with the Federal Clean Water Act by Prohibiting Certain Discharges into Waters of the State, H.B. 1261, would bring Washington into compliance with the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act (ESA) and would ban suction dredge mining in ESA-designated critical habitat for threatened or endangered salmon, steelhead, and bull trout. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration, which passed very similar legislation in 2019.

Suction dredge mining is a form of recreational 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 currently invests millions of dollars in salmon recovery while allowing suction dredge mining to take place in critical habitat for ESA-listed salmon, including Chinook salmon which are the primary food source for our endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. Proponents say H.B. 1261 provides commonsense updates to Washington state suction dredging rules that align with court-backed regulations for this activity in neighboring states including Oregon, California, Idaho, and Montana. 

“Without these laws on the books, we’re effectively playing a game of Russian roulette with our critical salmon and steelhead populations and we’re undermining our enormous taxpayer investment in Washington’s water quality and fish habitat restoration,” said Crystal Elliot-Perez, Washington Habitat Director for Trout Unlimited, which has led the statewide coalition to address this issue.

This legislation has 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 have 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.”

“H.B. 1261 will protect 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 common sense approach that protects habitat and ensures compliance with the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act,” said prime sponsor, Rep. Strom Peterson (21st District).

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 overwhelming vote 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. “The support for this reform is peaking and the time is now to pass this bill to protect our collective decades-long investment in salmon recovery.”

“Trout Unlimited is dedicated to the conservation and restoration of Washington’s salmon and steelhead populations, and all the hard work we are doing in the Central Cascades and across the state is 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. “Now is the time for addressing this issue head-on and instituting meaningful legal reforms to improve protections for these struggling fish populations.”

“As a craft beer bar, bottle shop and restaurant owner, I know the importance of toxic mineral free water,” says Ron Swarner, co-owner of Peaks and Pints and member of the Washington Brewshed Alliance. “Beer, like our bodies, is mostly water. Water is the most important ingredient in beer, too. It affects the pH of the beer. It affects how the beer flavors are expressed to one’s palate. Water can also cause off-flavors from chlorine or contaminants. Therefore, we are one of dozens of Washington businesses that support reforms that protect the source of clean water for fish and wildlife, human consumption and better tasting beer.”

“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. This is simply common-sense legislation and low-hanging fruit for protecting 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.