The Oroville Spillway emergency in California may have one silver — or gold — lining: The debris kicked up by weeks of heavy rain and runoff is now flecked with gold, and amateur gold panners are enjoying quite the bonanza.
The "gold rush" is occurring along the Feather and Yuba rivers, which are fed by the Oroville Dam. Of course, would-be panners should take note: It's unlikely that panners will hit the jackpot and retire with steamer trunks full of gold bars; the average haul from panning the river lately is worth just $40 to $300, CBS5 reported.
The foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains are famous for their gold. James W. Marshall first found gold at Sutter's Mill along the South Fork American River in 1848, according to Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Within a few years, hundreds of thousands of people had flocked to the Golden State in hopes of striking it rich. While some did, about half found too little gold to make up for the costs of mining it, Live Science previously reported.
Early miners could simply scoop gold out of the water, because the precious metal is much heavier than water and quickly settles to the bottoms of creeks or rivers. But as these easy pickings were exhausted, miners turned to more damaging and expensive methods of extracting gold for the region, such as blasting rock and pulling gold ore from the rock veins using cyanide and mercury, Live Science previously reported.
The new gold rush likely is occurring because runoff carved huge chunks off the mountain below the spillway during the heavy rains. The state is rushing to repair the Oroville Spillway before the rainy season starts in November, The Sacramento Bee reported. Initially, officials from the state's Department of Water Resources planned to repair and replace the lower two-thirds of the spillway this year and fix the upper portion next year. But now, they're asking permission to make both repairs simultaneously. They hope the repairs will prevent problems that could occur if drought or other weather issues come up, The Sacramento Bee reported.
Originally published on Live Science.