Vacuuming up gold from the bottom of a river sounds pretty tempting, so you can see why California gold miners are so intent on being allowed to do it. But suction dredge mining, as it's called, is quite controversial and has been banned in the state for the past four years as state courts consider new environmental regulations and their impact on the technique, which is depicted on the Discovery Channel's Bering Sea Gold. More than 3,000 miners who have dredge permits can't use them, and they're not happy about it, Fox News reports.
Suction dredge mining, which involves diving underwater with a 4-inch-wide hose to vacuum up dirt, gravel, and hopefully gold, "does minimal amounts of damage to the environment in addition to removing all of the toxins from the environment, like lead and mercury," says a former dredger and current activist. But opponents say it actually sucks up the mercury and blows it into small pieces, making the water "toxic" and ultimately impacting fish and the humans who eat those fish. The Department of Fish and Wildlife is working on more comprehensive regulations, but it could be a while before the issue is resolved. (Read more gold mine stories.)