Millions in gold still lies in California’s rivers

California’s attempt to ban suction dredging for gold in the rivers and streams of the Sierra foothills will be costly to an already fragile economy. Gold has been washing down these rivers for untold eons. Because it is heavy it falls to the bottom and settles in crevices in the bedrock. Early in the gold rush miners realized that the riverbeds were loaded with wealth. Then, in 1850, a large group of men pooled their energy in order to mine the bed of the Middle Fork of the American river at Murderer’s Bar. They dammed the stream and built a long flume to divert the water. River mining operations sprang up all over the gold country. Near Oroville a flume was dug forty feet deep in solid rock to divert the Feather River. Unimaginable amounts of gold were found this way, but the process was very inefficient and terribly destructive compared to the simple suction dredges that are available today.

Murderer’s Bar, 1850

In 1849 a miner with a shovel and a gold pan who found a ounce of gold a day considered that production only average and certainly not special. Gold was valued at sixteen dollars an ounce then. Now it hovers at a little over fifteen hundred dollars an ounce. According to Mike Dunn from Gold Pan California in Concord, there are four thousand miners who would use a suction dredge full time. These men average income would be around $100,000 a year. That’s a total of $400,000,000. Then there are another five to ten thousand weekend miners who average $300 to $500 a day for about twenty days of work a year. That adds $30,000,000 to $100,000,000 for a grand total of a half a billion dollars that could be mined from California’s rivers and then spent in stores and businesses around the state, an incredible boon to California’s sagging economy.

Is California’s legislature ready to turn it’s back on the gold miners who desperately need to work? Is it enough to tell citizens that they can’t earn a living for their families because the state can’t afford to collect the required fees for permits? The miners are rallying to defend their lifestyle but they are up against tough odds and a short time frame. For more information see their web site at

This post first appeared in the national edition of


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