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In 1975, the California Legislature created the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA), declaring that” the extraction of minerals is essential to the continued economic well-being of the state…and the reclamation of mined lands is necessary to prevent or minimize adverse effects on the environment and to protect the public health and safety.”

In 1991, following significant revisions to the SMARA, the Office of Mine Reclamation (OMR) was created to provide a measure of oversight for local governments as they administer SMARA within their respective jurisdictions. This oversight includes comments to lead agencies all mining operation’s reclamation plan and financial assurance, and if necessary, initiating compliance actions that encourage SMARA compliance. While the primary focus of SMARA is on existing mining operations and the return of those mined lands to a usable and safe condition, issues relating to abandoned legacy mines are addressed through the OMR’s Abandoned Mine Lands Program (AMLP).

In 1997, the AMLP was created within the Department’s Office of Mine Reclamation in order to address the safety hazards, environmental pollution, and public liability risk from legacy abandoned mines located on public land in California, in particular those that existed before the 1975 enactment of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA).

California’s mining history prior to enactment of mine reclamation requirements has left California with tens of thousands of historic mines. Those mines can pose safety hazards to humans and wildlife and environmental contamination in the form of mercury pollution, increased stream sediment, acid mine drainage, metals, and asbestos and arsenic contamination, often resulting in negative impacts on water quality (Figure 1). Most of these mines ceased operations before state reclamation requirements were enacted in 1975, and before enactment of state or federal environmental protection regulations.

For more information about the SMARA Program and the abandoned mine lands program, click on the links below.

Surface Mining and Reclamation Act Program

Abandoned Mine Lands Program

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