Those Damned 49ers – and I Don’t Mean the Football Team

  |   History, Watershed   |   No comment

Those Damned 49ers; San Francisco

KQED’s Quest blog tells a story: In Gold Rush times, monied interests quickly depleted the gold deposits on the surface and in the rivers. So, they invented honking water cannons and blasted away canyon walls and hillsides.

The resulting sludge drained into the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers where it was strained of the gold. Remaining sediment and water was sent into the Central Valley to flood farmland and generally lay waste to ecological systems as far West as the San Francisco Bay. We’ve suffered that pollution ever since.

But, good news! A tipping point has been reached, and Bay waters are 30% clearer now than just 10 years ago. But…

There is always a “but.” The lack of sediment from hydraulic mining could cause us extra trouble when sea levels rise from global warming.

What I find fascinating, yet also extremely challenging, is how the choices we’ve made as a civilization over the decades and centuries combine and sum to create the issues we face right now. There are no simple answers. Regardless of how well-intentioned some environmental programs may be there will always be some uncertainty about how natural systems respond.

None of us could enjoy the land we call California without the Gold Rush. Which makes it all the more frustrating to learn about the bad behavior of the nasty dudes who made it all possible.

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