Recreational Mining Permits
Many people enjoy the challenge of searching for gold in Idaho's streams and rivers by means of recreational mining. The alteration of stream channels by using recreational mining equipment in a stream is regulated in Idaho by the Stream Channel Protection Act. Recreational mining equipment can be any implement that is used to dig, scrape, dredge, or otherwise move stream bed materials from below the mean high watermark in search of minerals. If powered, your mining equipment may not exceed specific size and capability requirements. For example, if you use a suction dredge, it must have a nozzle diameter of 5 inches or less and be rated at no more than 15 horsepower and be capable of processing no greater than two (2) cubic yards of material per hour. Other powered and non powered mining equipment also have capacity restrictions. The Stream Channel Protection Act also requires that a miner must obtain a permit from the Idaho Department of Water Resources before the miner alters any portion of the stream bed. State regulations also specify the streams where recreational mining is allowed.
WARNING: It is a misdemeanor in Idaho to alter a stream channel without the permit or to violate the conditions of the permit. You can be fined from $150-$500 per day for violations. Also, it is important to understand that an IDWR permit does not allow you access to private lands or on another person's mining claim or lease. Mineral removal from streams on private lands requires permission or a mineral lease from the owner.
Recreational Mining Permit Forms
NOTICE: By submitting a signed authorization permit, the applicant certifies that they have read the documents below and that they agree to comply with all requirements.
IMPORTANT! If you are moving water out of the stream/river, such as when using high banker equipment, you might need to include the Temporary Water Right Application form and fee along with the Recreational Mining Authorization form.
Where Can I Do Recreational Mining?
In general, a valid permit allows you to do recreational mining in any stream on state or federal land where it is specifically allowed. Your permit directs the miner to the IDWR documents that identify the streams or stream sections where recreational mining is allowed and the time during the year it is allowed.
Ownership of minerals on state lands in the beds of navigable rivers belongs to the State of Idaho and no removal is allowed without a mineral lease from the Department of Lands. The instructions for your permit will provide a list of streams considered navigable by the State of Idaho. The Department of Lands also has authority over dredge mining in Idaho lakes.
What about Mining in Streams on Federal Lands?
Even though you have your State permit, you should check with the Forest Service district ranger station or the Bureau of Land Management offices. They can tell you about access, open roads, camping, land ownership, areas closed to mining, and other information regarding Federal land. Many streams in National Forests may not be open for mining.
What about Environment Considerations?
Small recreational mining equipment operated in a stream channel may cause environmental damage if operated improperly or at the wrong time of year. This could potentially impact an entire run of fish and cause the stream to be closed to all future mining activities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for administering the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit program in Idaho. EPA approval under the NPDES general permit for small scale suction dredge operations in Idaho is required beginning in 2013. Additional information regarding NPDES permitting may be obtained at EPA’s website or by contacting the following EPA Office:
EPA Idaho Operations Office
950 W Bannock, Suite 900
Boise, ID 83702
In addition, Idaho is concerned with the introduction of invasive species into Idaho waters from floating craft or other devices, including recreational mining equipment that have previously been used in contaminated waters outside the state. To ensure that you do not introduce any invasive aquatic species, specifically Quagga/Zebra mussels, Idaho's Invasive Species Law makes it illegal to import, transport, or possess invasive species. Recreational mining equipment operators are required to decontaminate their equipment before they come to Idaho or before returning to Idaho after mining out of state. The Idaho Department of Water Resources also strongly recommends that all mining equipment be decontaminated when moving into another watershed within the state. See 100thmeridian.org for information on decontamination of equipment.
Operators of recreational mining equipment shall ensure that all internal and external surfaces of their equipment are cleaned and free of bacterial growth by circulating hot water internally and thoroughly pressure washing all exterior surfaces. Cleaning should ensure that all rough or gritty spots (microscopic mussels feel like sandpaper) are cleaned using high pressure 140+ degree Fahrenheit water or similar cleaning processes and thoroughly drying dredge for a minimum of 24 hours prior to use. See the Idaho Department of Agriculture's website for more information.
Why do I need a permit to operate recreational mining equipment?
The Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) administers the Stream Channel Alteration Act established by Idaho Code § 42-3801 et seq. If you are going to dredge, dig, scrape, or otherwise move stream bed materials from below mean high watermark (MHWM) in your prospecting/mining efforts, you will be altering the stream channel and you must have an IDWR-issued stream channel alteration permit.
If your prospecting/mining equipment does not exceed certain physical size limits, you operate your equipment as described in our current IDWR Recreational Dredging Program Instructions, and you operate only when streams are specifically listed as open, you may apply for and will be issued recreational dredging permit (LETTER PERMIT) to conduct your stream channel alterations.
If you wish to alter a steam bed with other equipment or alter streams that are closed (not specifically listed as open), you must have a valid stream channel alteration long form permit in your possession at the time of alteration. These are called Joint Application for Permits.
Is the LETTER PERMIT the only permit I need to conduct recreational prospecting/mining?
Your LETTER PERMIT allows you to alter a stream channel only when such alterations are conducted as described in the current IDWR Recreational Dredging Program Instructions and the stream is specifically listed as open. The operator of the prospecting/mining equipment is responsible for other permits that may be required. For example, you may have other permit requirements if you are on U.S. National Forest lands or U.S. BLM lands, and you would need to contact the U.S. EPA for any National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit requirements.
I have a mining claim. Why do I need a stream channel alteration permit?
Your mining claim gives you rights to minerals on a specific portion of land. The miner is still responsible for conducting their mining operation in compliance with other established requirements, including stream channel alteration requirements established by Idaho Code that requires you to obtain a stream channel alteration permit.
What is considered recreational mining equipment?
Any equipment that can alter the bed of a stream channel below mean high watermark (MHWM) requires a stream channel alteration permit. If a miner's equipment and its operation are consistent with that described in the IDWR Recreational Dredging Program Instructions and the equipment is operated in a stream specifically listed as open, it is considered recreational mining and can be done with a LETTER PERMIT. All other equipment or methods of operation require a Joint Application for Permits.
How do I determine if I am working below mean high watermark?
Idaho Code § 42-3802(h) states "Mean high watermark" means a water level corresponding to the natural or ordinary high watermark and is the line which the water impresses on the soil by covering it for sufficient periods of time to deprive the soil of its terrestrial vegetation and destroy its value for commonly accepted agricultural purposes.
Do I need a LETTER PERMIT to operate my high-banker on a stream specifically listed as open?
Your high-banker (or other types of hydraulic concentrators used for mining) are only allowed to operate in stream channels (below MHWM) when the stream is specifically listed as open and the operator has a valid LETTER PERMIT.
- If you operate your high-banker at an upland location (above MHWM), you require a LETTER PERMIT to process material that has been removed from the stream channel (below MHWM). Stream channel materials can only be removed from a stream channel when the stream is specifically listed as open.
- If you operate your high-banker in an upland location (above MHWM) and you are processing only upland materials (obtained from above MHWM), it is not considered a stream channel alteration and you do not need a LETTER PERMIT. However, Idaho Department of Lands placer mining regulations may apply. Please visit the Idaho Department of Lands website for more information.
- If you operate your high-banker at an upland location (above MHWM), you must also have a water right to withdraw water from the stream.
Do I need a water right?
If you are withdrawing water from the stream, you must have a valid water right in your possession.
What is the penalty for violating Idaho's stream channel protection act?
You may be issued a citation for illegally altering a stream channel. Illegal stream channel alterations that have occurred over several days are subject to penalties from $150.00 to $500.00 per day of violation. Repeat offenders or blatant violations are subject to equipment forfeiture.