Suction Dredge Clean Water Act Enforcement

Suction Dredge Clean Water Act Enforcement

Current Status:

Case Title:
Idaho Conservation League v. Shannon Poe, No. 1:18-cv-353-REB (D. Idaho)

Staff attorney(s):
Bryan Hurlbutt


Idaho Conservation League

To Protect:

Clean Water

Fish Habitat

Date won/settled:
June 4, 2021


Case Information:

June 4, 2021: Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush ruled in our favor on all counts, determining that suction dredge miner Shannon Poe polluted the South Fork of the Clearwater River and needed a permit as required under the Clean Water Act. We filed suit against Poe, who dredged for 42 days on the Idaho river, on behalf of Idaho Conservation League. The South Fork Clearwater provides critical habitat for salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other sensitive species. Judge Bush ruled against each of the arguments Poe’s lawyers put before him. His ruling confirms that suction dredge mining requires permits under the Clean Water Act, and that the removal, processing, and disposal of material sucked from the bottom of rivers and streams with motorized equipment constitute a “discharge.”

The court will now consider the appropriate penalty. The only other similar case against another South Fork Clearwater River dredge miner resulted in a penalty of $6,600 for a single day of dredging. A similar per-day penalty for Poe would result in a fine of over $277,000, but Poe’s repeated violations, ignoring warnings, and encouraging others to do the same could warrant even higher penalties.

May 18, 2020: Advocates for the West filed the opening brief in our Clean Water Act enforcement case for Idaho Conservation League against suction dredge miner Shannon Poe.

Mr. Poe uses a suction dredge to mine for gold from the riverbed of the South Fork Clearwater River. When he operates his dredge, Mr. Poe discharges turbid wastewater to the river, but he refuses to apply for a Clean Water Act permit.

Our filing asks the Court to hold Mr. Poe liable for 42 Clean Water Act violations–one for each day he mined without a permit in 2014, 2015, and 2018.

The South Fork Clearwater River is an eligible Wild and Scenic River, and supports many native aquatic species, including steelhead, Chinook salmon, bull trout, lamprey, cutthroat trout, and others. Due to logging, mining, and other human activities, the South Fork is impaired along its entire length because it fails to meet Clean Water Act standards for sediment pollution. Suction dredge miners excavate deep dredge holes, exposing and releasing sediments that were locked in place deep in the riverbed, further degrading water quality in the South Fork.

September 30, 2019 — District of Idaho Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush issued a decision denying Defendant Shannon Poe’s motion to dismiss our Clean Water Act enforcement case against him.

Advocates for the West filed the case for the Idaho Conservation League after Mr. Poe repeatedly discharged sediment pollution while suction dredge mining in the South Fork Clearwater River in 2015, 2016, and 2018 while refusing to obtain a Clean Water Act pollution permit. The South Fork Clearwater is important for habitat for native fish and is a popular for recreation. After decades of harmful mining and logging, the river is recovering. But the South Fork still fails to meet water quality standards and faces significant pressure from suction dredge miners.

The court rejected Poe’s arguments that ICL did not have an adequate stake in the case and failed to provide him with adequate notice of the lawsuit. This decision brings us one step closer to showing Mr. Poe and other suction dredge miners that they are not above the law and must follow the Clean Water Act.

January 22, 2019 – Advocates for the West filed its brief opposing suction dredge miner Shannon Poe’s motion to dismiss our Clean Water Act (CWA) enforcement case against him.  Poe lives in California but regularly visits Idaho to suction dredge mine on the South Fork Clearwater River, where his dredge discharges sediment pollution.  Despite repeat warnings from state and federal agencies that he is required under the CWA to obtain and comply with a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, he refuses to do so.

After Poe illegally dredged on the South Fork in 2014 and 2015, we sent him a 60-day notice of intent to sue on behalf of Idaho Conservation League (ICL) in 2016.  Poe responded by saying he would no longer dredge without first obtaining the necessary permits.  But he went back on his word, and in 2018 Poe returned to suction on the South Fork without an NPDES permit.  We filed suit against Poe in August 2018.

Poe now admits to dredging on the South Fork in 2014, 2015, and 2018, but he moved the court to dismiss the case, claiming ICL failed to send an adequate 60-day notice letter and ICL lacks standing to sue.  Read our federal court filing below, which rebukes Poe’s legally and factually unsupported arguments and asks the court to let the case against Poe proceed.

August 10, 2018: Advocates for the West filed suit against Shannon Poe for illegally suction dredge mining on Idaho’s South Fork Clearwater River in violation of the Clean Water Act. Poe spent many days dredging in past years, and again this summer, without a permit authorizing his pollution discharges to the river. Despite being notified numerous times by state and federal agencies, and by our client, Idaho Conservation League, of the requirement to obtain a Clean Water Act permit to operate a suction dredge, Poe refuses to obtain a permit and continues to encourage other dredge miners to disobey the law too.

Suction dredge mining involves using a motorized apparatus attached to an underwater nozzle to suck up riverbed material, sorting the material for gold on a watercraft-mounted sluice box, and then discharging sediment and other pollutants to the river. Suction dredge pollution discharges degrade water quality and impair fish habitat.

The scenic South Fork Clearwater River is popular for recreation and is important habitat for Chinook salmon, steelhead, bull trout, cutthroat trout, and Pacific lamprey. The South Fork is still recovering after decades of harmful mining, fails to meet water quality standards, and faces significant pressure from suction dredge mining.

We are representing ICL in this Clean Water Act citizen enforcement suit, which aims to stop Poe’s illegal dredging and serve as a warning to others who might suction dredge in Idaho without following environmental laws.