California Drought Has Gold Lining as Prospectors Rush to Resurfaced Mining Town

May 14, 2014 - 9:36 AM

There's a gold lining to the drought in California - record low water levels are bringing out gold prospectors who are panning the rivers of the Sierra Nevada foothills for gold that, until now, has remained out of reach.

"With the drought going on, we're able to dig in more locations that wouldn't be accessible at later times," Tim Amavisca told the AP. Amavisca donned waterproof overalls and panned the Bear River with his daughter. "If you see a good-sized flake, that's when you get excited."

The AP reports:

The drought has exposed old roads, bridges, railway lines and junked cars that are usually submerged in lakes and reservoirs. At the Folsom Lake reservoir, the water's retreat revealed the remnants of a Gold Rush mining town called Mormon Island, which was flooded when the dam was built in the 1950s.

The lakes and reservoirs that would have usually kept this old infrastructure submerged are themselves man-made and part of an artificial water system that brings water to the thirsty Sierra Nevada foothills.

With gold prices at over $1,300 an ounce, and jobs in short supply, many locals are prospecting to supplement their incomes. Frank Sullivan, owner of a mining store, said that his business has increased 20-25% since the drought. "It's great for business, but I'd rather see no drought and a lot of rain," Sullivan told AP.

"It's hard to talk about the positives of something so negative [but] we're able to get into areas now that we just simply haven't been able to" access for years, said Kevin Hoagland from the Gold Prospectors Association of America.

"It is not the gold rush, we don't have tens of thousands of people from across the country," Hoagland said. But due to the low water levels, local families are out prospecting that wouldn't usually spend time this way.

"I've found ounces of gold, and other times I've found a few dollars' worth," Hoagland said. "I've had really good days, and I've had really great days. A good day, I'll find something, a great day, I'll find a lot."