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Image of a portion of the mine pit at Malakoff Diggins

This image is of a manufactured landscape. It shows a portion of the Malakoff Mine pit. The Malakoff Mine, operated by The North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company, was in full scale operation from 1866 to 1884. In 1884 it was the world’s largest hydraulic gold mine. Today the mine pit measures 7,000 feet long by 3,000 feet wide and approximately 300 feet deep. The pit was nearly 600 feet deep when the mine was active but since that time tons of eroded earth have accumulated in it and the soft clay and gravel cliffs left from the mining have been sculpted by erosion into badlands. The Malakoff Mine and town of North Bloomfield are part of Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park.

Hydraulic mining was developed in 1853 as an efficient way to capture gold from stream-deposited gravels which lie below the earth’s surface. But the capital investment required for large scale hydraulic mining was beyond what an individual or small group of prospectors could obtain. In the 1860’s companies were formed to mine these deep gravels which usually lay just above bedrock, some 50 to 350 beet below ground level. An abundant supply of water was necessary for large scale hydraulic mining. Large water companies were formed which built thousands of miles of canals, pipelines and flumes to deliver water stored in hundreds of reservoirs built for the hydraulic mines. Using giant nozzles called monitors, powerful sprays of water (approximately 5,000 to 11,000 gallons per minute) were aimed at the mountainsides which caused the soil to give way. When the Malakoff Mine was operating at full capacity approximately 16 billion gallons of water were used each year and up to 100,000 tons of gravel were worked a day.

The massive amounts of debris produced by Malakoff, and many other hydraulic mines in this region and others, created an ecological disaster which was far reaching. The debris filled runoff from hydraulic mining polluted streams, raised river beds in the Sacramento Valley causing massive flooding and hampered navigation on the Sacramento River. After years of legal battles between the farmers and land owners of the Sacramento Valley and the hydraulic mine operators, a decision in 1884 by Judge Sawyer in the case of Woodruff vs. The North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company perpetually prohibited dumping of mining debris into the rivers. The “Sawyer Decision” made profitable operation of hydraulic mines impossible. By 1910 hydraulic mining in the region had ceased.

Of related interest, there is an image of a flume in the Gallery and a historical photo of Malakoff Diggins in the Letters section.

Link to Wikipedia page on Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park.

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