Want to run a highbanker? Not so fast

Water Board Demands $1,200 to Apply for a Permit...

High crimes and highbankers, the end of mining


So with dredging illegal, or at least impossible, you thought, maybe, you'd grab the highbanker, run out to a ravine and spend the day shoveling some dirt and getting a little gold?

Not so fast says the California Water Board, you'll need a permit to do that.

That's right. We've now reached the point in California where shoveling some dirt through a sluice box requires an insanely expensive permit and falls under the draconian California Water Board laws.

You don't need to believe us. You can read the Water Boards information here. Yeah, if you just pulled up that document you can see it's three pages. Yup, three pages to explain to you about a thousand dollar permit requirement. Good to see the folks at the Water Board are protecting the rivers from..., oh yeah, it's dirt.

What about the winter storms you say? Well, according to the Water Board a winter storm which moves about 8 gazillion (sounds big, but probably not a real number) more sediment than all of us combined is...wait for it...an Act of God, and as it turns out we miners aren't an Act of God. It seems the Water Board has been somewhat ineffectual at fining God for dirt, but they have figured out how to fine miners. Bless their hearts.


So now to run a highbanker you'll need to apply for a permit. Uh, no guarantee you'll actually get it, but hey, if you happen to have a spare $1,200 laying around it might be fun to actually apply for the permit.

What's that? Don't believe us, you may want to scroll back up and actually click on that link. We promise it doesn't take you to a Nigerian site with people needing to transfer you, say $1,200 bucks or so.

OK, now that we've got the whole credibility thing out of the way, let's get back to this discussion on permitting things you throw dirt into. So once you've applied, and they've cashed your check, although to be honest they probably wouldn't take a check from a miner, then they'll carefully study your plans (shovel dirt in sluice box). They'll probably bring in some scientists to do a study, maybe consult a few Indian tribes, wring their hands with concern and then reject it. Hate to be pessimists here, but it does sound maybe somewhat likely?

So, let's say you're like us, and just don't think shoveling dirt in a sluice box ought to cost you a $1,200 permit. Let's also say you're somewhat flexible on following every regulation on the books, so you head out with your sluice box (with a motor on it) and decide you'll just do it anyways.

Oh, did we mention the fine is $10,000 per day, if you get caught with your shovel and motorized sluice. Sorry, should have mentioned that earlier.

One other thing, if you decide you have the temerity (nice word for balls) to challenge their fine in court, then it automatically goes up to $25,000 per day. Apparently they don't want anyone actually challenging a fine in front of an elected judge. Makes one wonder why not.

Now, I don't know about you, but I've tried this highbanking stuff before, and truthfully, it's not my cup of tea. I found I could actually move about 12 Home Depot buckets a day. Yeah, some of you young guys are snickering at that, but we'll see you in about 40 years or so. Anyways, at 12 buckets or so that works out to a fine of $2,000 per bucket of dirt.

I can't help but wonder how we, as a free people, allowed a government agency the power to fine a guy $2,000 for putting a bucket of dirt in the creek.

Now, I could see the point if we were say, running a bulldozer in the river, clear-cutting a hundred acres or perhaps spraying toxic insecticides on fields...oh wait, those are all legal. It's just the 5 gallon buck of dirt which seems to trouble them.

It seems as if these heavy fines are only imposed on those who can't afford to pay them. Somedays it almost seems like you're in a Charles Dickens novel huh? Perhaps Water Board debtor prisons are next. Big guy in the cell asks you what you're in for - you reply "a bucket of dirt."

OK, we know what you're thinking. What if you ran your highbanker but didn't discharge into the water? Clever, but the Water Board has already thought that one through, it seems they have some type of jurisdiction over even dry land. Is there no end to their jurisdiction? Can they fine you for digging a 5 gallon bucket of dirt in your backyard? Maybe.

Yeah, kind of funny when you think about it. The Water Board won't let you run your highbanker on dry land even if not one drop heads back to the river.

So here's how they figured that one out. To run your highbanker, they say, you need to "divert" water and unless you have riparian water rights, or apply for a permit to "divert" the water, then you don't have a legal right to use the water on your mining claim. Now give them credit for a novel approach to the serious problem of people shoveling dirt into the rivers.

So there you have it, go out and run your highbanker but only after getting your riparian rights permit; your water diversion permit and your $1,200 highbanker permit. And who said socialism was all bad?