Document Details

California Hydraulic Mining under the Caminetti Act

Scientific American | July 21st, 1900

The gold deposits of California are, for a large part, contained in gravel beds once the channel of rivers which formed the drainage of the west slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the course of ages new rivers were formed, leaving the ancient gravel beds elevated often hundreds of feet above the river beds of the present. The depth of the gravel in the old channels is often several hundred feet and the width across them frequently one-half mile, while their courses may be traced for thirty or forty miles in length in detached sections, which are the remnants of once continuous beds. Denudation and the cutting down of the present streams has removed parts of the ancient channels and they often disappear below the surface for several miles underneath coverings of lava which have been spread over them …  Hydraulic mining became an immense industry. At the time when it had reached its greatest development it was estimated that more than one hundred millions of dollars had been invested in the construction of water supplies, mining plant, tunnels, and flumes, and more than two million dollars have been spent in the equipment of a single mine. Everything was upon an immense scale, and the amounts of gravel removed were in proportion. So large, in fact, that the material washed into the streams caused blockages over spreading agricultural lands in the Sacramento Valley, obstructing and raising the beds of the navigable rivers which enter San Francisco Bay, causing inundations at times of flood, and generally making its influence noticeable 200 miles from the seat of mining. In 1880 it was estimated that in the bed of the Yuba River alone there were stored more than one hundred and forty million cubic yards of accumulations, and the bed of the river had spread over a width of two and one-half miles between the side levees built to confine the spread of the deposits.


upper watershed management, water quality