A blast from the past
A few days ago in a post, I mentioned that I wondered if the Orangevale Palisades had ever been the site of hydraulic gold mining. I’m now a bit embarassed to admit I must have at one time known the answer to that question and completely forgot. The information was right under my nose, posted clearly on a sign beside Lake Natoma near Negro Bar State Park that I’ve walked past hundreds of times in the past few years!
The first paragraph reads: “The steep bluffs along the trail were exposed when much of the hillside was washed away by hydraulic mining (1880s). These exposed bluffs reveal the story of the ancient riverbed.” Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park in Nevada County provides the most impressive example of hydraulic mining damage in Northern California. Hydraulic mining using high-pressure nozzles was an extremely profitable method of recovering gold for mining companies like the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company along the Yuba River in Nevada County and the Gold Run Ditch and Mining Company on the North Fork of the American River.
The practice stopped only after local citizens groups filed lawsuits against the mining companies and took their arguments all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — which ultimately ruled against the mining companies in November 1884. The legal battle against the mining companies had nothing to do with the massive environmental damage to the once-beautiful hillsides; instead, it focused on economic problems caused by sediment and debris deposits clogging up Sacramento Valley rivers and flooding rich agricultural land. The Supreme Court decision held that “No person, natural or artificial, has the right directly or indirectly to cover his neighbor’s land with mining debris” (quoted in The Lower American River: Prehistory to Parkway, 2005).