Hydraulic mining was in full swing. Monitors (water cannons) blasted away at hillsides 24 hours a day, pumping tens of millions of gallons of water, eroding and setting loose the precious gold. Down the gold ran tumbling with mud, gravel, and other debris. It passed through long sluices catching the heavy gold flakes along the riffles and letting the sludge pass through. Tens of thousands of tons of gravel and mud poured daily out of the Sierra foothills and settled in the rivers below.
Flooded, choked, swollen. These were the terms that described the rivers and valleys of California as hydraulic mining took siege on the lowlands of the Sacramento Valley. City streets lay in ruins, farmlands encrusted with mud, and the San Francisco bay turned brown the year round. Tensions started to grow between the farmers of the valley and the miners of the foothills. Levees and damns were built, but burst, and so did the tempers of the people, finally leading to the landmark case of Edwards Woodruff v. North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Company.
More than merely ending the era of the gold mining in California the Sawyer Decision had made a statement to protect agriculture, environment and the public interest. The ruling paved the way for the dominance of the rich agricultural economy of California today. It is also seen by many as the first environmental case in the United States protecting the interest of public lands over the rights of private financial interests, by acknowledging the value and effects of changing the environment. These legal effects are not the only major changes that often go unrecognized during talk of the gold rush - check back into our next blog to learn about the all too often forgotten effects on the American Indians of the area.