Rules for mineral prospecting and placer mining as of June 11, 2020

Update June 22, 2020: Prospectors do not require a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from the Department of Ecology if: 
1. Prospector uses motorized mineral prospecting equipment without discharging process water back to waters of the state (equipment is self contained); and,
2. The prospecting activity occurs only in certain waters in Adams, Benton, Clallam, Grant, Grays Harbor, Lincoln, Pacific, Spokane, Whitman, and Yakima counties that are not designated under the federal Endangered Species Act as critical habitat for salmon, steelhead, or bull trout, or have a freshwater designated use of salmonid spawning, rearing, and migration.

See a map identifying waters where motorized methods may be allowed. A second edition of the 2020 Gold & Fish pamphlet was updated on June 22, 2020 with specific guidance for self-contained equipment.

Gold and Fish pamphlet

Mineral prospecting and placer mining activities in or near water qualify as hydraulic projects and require a permit (Chapter 77.55 RCW). The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) regulates most of these activities through the Gold and Fish pamphlet.

A second edition of the 2020 Gold and Fish pamphlet was released on June 22, 2020 to only authorize certain methods of mineral prospecting. Mineral prospecting methods that are not authorized through the pamphlet, such as suction dredging, require an individual Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA).

New law in effect June 11, 2020

A new state law went into effect June 11, 2020 that bans the use of motorized and gravity siphon aquatic mining equipment in areas designated as critical habitat for salmonids (salmon, steelhead, or bull trout) under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) or in designated use areas where salmonids spawn, rear, and migrate.

Under the new law, prospectors may use motorized and gravity siphon mining equipment only in those areas not designated as critical habitat or designated use area. In addition to the HPA, prospectors may be required to get another permit from the Department of Ecology. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit will be required if the prospector will be discharging water from motorized or a gravity siphon mining equipment back into surface or ground waters.

Individual Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA)

To use motorized or gravity siphon mining equipment in areas not designated as critical habitat or use area, prospectors must apply for an individual Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA). 

You may apply for a maximum of five sites within the same watershed, per application. A site is defined as:

  • The length of a registered mining claim, or
  • 1,300 linear feet of stream if the project is not conducted on a registered claim

Aquatic invasive species inspections

All suction dredge equipment used in waters outside of Washington state must be inspected for aquatic invasive species by an authorized WDFW representative before equipment can be used in Washington waters. Call the aquatic invasive species hotline at 1-888-933-9247 or email ais@dfw.wa.gov.

Learn more about the HPA application process.

Annual reporting 

Starting Jan. 1, 2021, all prospectors using suction dredges must submit an annual report to WDFW documenting the previous years’ suction dredging activities by Feb. 1. Download the annual report form (PDF or Excel).

Activities not approved through Gold and Fish pamphlet

You must first get an individual Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) if you want to work at times or locations, or with equipment, not allowed in the pamphlet.

We will work with you to ensure your proposed activity does not harm fish. You must then follow the provisions in your individual HPA to ensure compliance with the law. Learn more about the HPA application process.

Other permissions and permits

Landowner permission

You must get permission from landowners before prospecting on their property.

Other agencies 

Several federal, state, tribal, and local government agencies may have their own requirements pertaining to water rights and mining claims. The Gold and Fish pamphlet explains other agencies' interest in prospecting and placer mining and provides contact information.

Learn about other required permits from the Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance.