Suction Dredging & Impact On Our Waterways



This article is written to encourage a sensible discussion and form educated conclusions. I am in no way an expert on this subject and write through my own experience and that of my peers. My opinions are my own as a gold miner and as a human being who loves Mother Earth.

My father sparked my interest in gemstones and mining at an early age. I was 8 or 9 when he gave me a huge green book,”The Rock Book”, and though I didn’t understand all the technical stuff I was captivated by the amazing colors and shapes of the stones and minerals. Five decades later that fire still burns but I’ve added gold prospecting and mining to my list. It’s the thrill of the hunt that I enjoy most, that and the awesome areas we mine and prospect here in Colorado. I also love old mining history and the hardcore men and women who started it all.


Beautiful Rainbow trout. Colorado is world famous for its trout fisheries.

This question fuels a passionate debate between miners and environmental activists all over the western gold mining states. The use of suction dredges on our waterways has been blamed directly for killing fish and destroying delicate spawning grounds. Environmentalists would have you believe that suction dredging increases heavy metal distribution downstream and raises the toxicity of the water. They claim dredges cause increased turbidity resulting in fish suffocating and dying. They claim the fisheries are compromised by destroying riverbeds and killing the food source of the fish. They claim dredging kills fish and eggs by sucking them through the dredge hose. They claim all this with no hard evidence that suction dredging directly causes any of these issues in our rivers and streams. We have been dredging the Arkansas River in Colorado and have been surrounded by anglers many times. Never have I been approached in a negative way. The anglers both upstream and down stream were catching fish with no ill affects caused by our dredging. We shared the river in harmony and enjoyed our time out doing what each loves. I have never sucked a fish through my dredge hose and don’t know anyone who has. In Colorado, we have a dredging “season” which protects the fisheries during spawning. We can’t dredge on the Arkansas River  from October, 31st through the month of March.  It’s a balance we must maintain to keep our river alive.


Spring run off from high country snowmelt

Anyone who spends time in our wild places near rivers and streams knows how violent and turbulent they become during the spring runoff season. Snowmelt raises the levels of our rivers and streams dramatically every spring. Some waterways easily more than double in size at this time and the power and destructive force of this deluge rearranges both stream bed and the banks of the rivers. What was here in March can be gone by  late July or early August. The river redeposits huge boulders and mega tons of rock and gravel downstream with such ease it is amazing to watch. Yet the fish survive this event which lasts months, year after year! How I can’t say, but they do survive and thrive.

Flash flood, Big Thompson Canyon, Colorado 1976. 12 to 14 inches of rain fell and devastated the canyon near Estes Park
Big Thompson Canyon, Colorado 1976. Impressive how the power of water moves such large boulders and debris, houses included!

The amount of debris and dirt in the water turns it into a chocolate brown thick slurry, yet the fish and plants survive just fine. It seems to me that Mother Nature’s power and force make what we do with our 4 and 5 inch dredges look like child’s play. The discharge from all the dredges on a certain river at one time could not even come close to matching the muddy mess the rivers become at runoff time. Not to mention flash floods caused by heavy rains which rearrange rivers and streams every year in the western United States. It’s really inconceivable to believe our dredges could  cause the damage just one small flood inflicts on the river and the fish living in it. It’s just physics….

As long as we miners go about our business in a good way, with proper permits and reclaimation practices, we should be able to mine using approved methods and equipment without ridicule and over regulation. When we abide by the mining regulations that the National Forest Service and BLM have set for our rivers and streams, we should be able to mine and prospect at will and enjoy our rights as miners to claim the mineral rights of an area if we find it worthy to do.

There is a total ban on suction dredging in California imposed by the powers that be. Oregon has done the same and it seems most western states may follow this action. We must stand up for our rights as miners or the ignorant and uninformed  will take them from us!

Here in Colorado we can use suction dredging as long as we follow the rules set forth by each Forest Service or BLM District. Not all waterways have the same regulations and you must know the laws pertaining to your particular river or stream. The proper paperwork must be filed and permits issued if you want to dredge or highbank on most waterways in Colorado.

Suction Dredging Helps Clean Our Rivers and Streams

7 buckets full of lead in 3 days dredging on the Umpqua River in Oregon

This is true and in my experience, gold dredges are some of the best tools to clean heavy metals from our rivers and streams. By going after gold, we also capture copper, lead and mercury which occurs naturally in most waterways.

Mercury dredged from Clear Creek, Colorado

There is no other group out there doing any of this. I’ve never heard of Trout Unlimited or any other Association doing heavy metal clean-up. A lot of gold prospectors are also fishermen and women and big game hunters. We care about the fisheries and the health of our rivers. None of us wants to see the death of any of our waterways.  To me it’s vital to Prospect with Respect!

Mother Nature has a way of taking care of herself. She takes care of the rivers better than humans ever could and she is in a constant state of cleansing and refreshing and rebuilding.  We must maintain a balance between effective regulation and miner rights. We must stop over-regulation and aggressive enforcement tactics.

Let us not confuse Large Scale Mining  Companies and their practices with the way Small Scale Miners operate.

Summitville, A Colorado mining disaster.

Anyone who is concerned with clean water and mining has seen the impact of their disgraceful mining techniques and practices on the Mother Earth. One only has to look as far as Summitville, Colorado and the ecological disaster that a Canadien mining company inflicted on our environment to understand the aftermath of “Dirty Mining”.

Small Scale Gold Miners and dredges in particular are as far from this type of mining as you can get. Our operations are usually 1 or 2 man operations or small groups of prospectors doing what they love. We are true entrepreneurs and should be afforded the right to provide a better life for our families and our posterity through gold mining and suction dredging. Why should I be regulated to the point of making dredging an extinct form of mining? Why do government agencies and their lawmen feel they can use fear and intimidation to destroy a mining heritage that has been handed down for nearly 2 centuries? Don’t let them and an uninformed, ignorant few take away our mining heritage and rights. We must stand up for our rights and educate the ignorant and change the public perception that all mining is bad for the environment. It is not!!! We must educate, inform and lobby for our very existence as gold miners and gem hunters. If we do not make the effort then the environmental fanatics and government agencies who want to regulate mining into extinction will win! Be a Gold Mining Warrior. Join the fight for our rights and contact your Congressmen and women. Let them hear your point if view and educate them as to the realities of what Small Scale Mining is and it’s impacts on the Mother Earth.



Dave McCracken is probably the best resource for the legal actions going on in the courts regarding suction dredging in California.  His club is awesome and Dave is one of the pioneers and authorities on dredging for gold . His books are the best and he is a wealth of knowledge.

Oregon has a moratorium on suction dredging, here are a few interesting and informative links.


  1. I’ve been a miner for 20 years, and that was sand and contaminated material.
    Only recently I’ve begun prospecting. I believe most people unknowingly and wrongly hear the word dredging and automatically all dredging falls into the category of , contamination, harmful to the environment, and it’s just not so. Where ther is contamination removal you will spread some but you remove the bulk.if there is none absolutely not. One picture I see in this post shows massive river flow, the water is brown with silts, this people don’t see as pollution but if it were some guy with a handheld 4″ suction dredge there are those that scream unjustifiably . It never seemed to amaze me how little people know about their surroundings but bark out . I was dredging in East Hampton NY we pumped the sand straight to the beach we ate clams on the halfshell right off the end of the pipe. When we set the job up and was ready to start , I sat on deck with a cup off what Doc calls Georgia whiskey (coffee) while sitting there someone threw a chunk of ashphalt from the Jetty , almost took my eye , and knocked me out. At the hospital a nurse in the ER started squawking about the dredging , contamination, blah blah, the total ignorance was astounding , I asked her if she was down at the jetty. Thats the mindset of the word dredging.
    And it’s wrong. As an after thought one thing I noticed over the years if some political,figure needed a boat passage to his or her beach home there was never any permitting problems and the county or state would have no problems pumping a half mile channel to the persons beach homemade pumping bay mud right out on the beach. All,with no testing for contamination. So there is a double standard, I’ve witnessed it.

  2. New Hampshire Dredge users are currently at risk of losing all dredging rights in NH waterways, the bill HB591 has currently passed the House, and has been sent to The energy and natural resources committee for review, it is not too late to get involved to help prospectors stop this attack on our freedom

  3. Good article informative. I do hope in the future regulations lighten up on us small scale prospectors and miners.

  4. We had our hearing. we had all the info that could be had. we defeated it with a 4-0 vote in our favor. read my post great day for nh miners.

  5. Great and truthful artical. Will have to use it as a baseline to raise some halifax around here so that we can get our dredges back into the water. THANKS

  6. I find you to be correct and I don’t even dredge I just understand from your post vs Mother Earth Mother Earth creates much more force and damage and still out fish and wildlife come to drink and hunt the waterways
    I enjoyed your post ?

  7. Great information! Thank you. I will take this to some of my local officials and try to see if I can get them to implement this into the trout stream that they are trying to build back into its former glory!!!?

  8. I have videos of fish moving in the dredge hole as soon as I get out to take a break they can be seen eating off the hole walls, kinda cool to see how they love the new place to live!

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