Drought Fuels Mini California Gold Rush

Low water levels open up new areas for panning

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Mar 27, 2014 12:00 PM CDT | Updated Mar 30, 2014 6:28 AM CDT

(Newser) – California is facing what some have called its worst drought in a century, but there could be a silver lining—or, should we say, gold. Thanks to low water levels, a mini gold rush has sprung up around the Sierra Nevada foothills—the same spot flooded by '49ers in the mid-1800s. "With the drought going on, we're able to dig in more locations that wouldn't be accessible," one man said as he panned for gold—currently selling for more than $1,300 an ounce—in Bear River near Colfax, Calif. "If you see a good-sized flake, that's when you get excited."

The drought doesn't appear to be improving. "I do understand that it's a dramatic impact on everybody during a drought that's this severe, but at the same token I'm taking advantage of it," said another amateur prospector. He's not the only one. At Pioneer Mining Supplies in the town of Auburn, business has shot up 20% to 25% since the drought began. "It's great for business," the store's owner said, "but I'd rather see no drought and a lot of rain." As for one of his customers, "It's more of a hobby ... but obviously if we hit a nice pocket, then yeah, I would love to make some money."

In this photo taken Tuesday, March 4, 2014, Heather Willis, manager of the Pioneer Mining Supply Co., goes over a map of areas open to gold panning with a prospective gold prospector.
In this photo taken Tuesday, March 4, 2014, Heather Willis, manager of the Pioneer Mining Supply Co., goes over a map of areas open to gold panning with a prospective gold prospector.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
In this photo taken Tuesday, March 4, 2014, Heather Willis, manager of the Pioneer Mining Supply Co., goes over a map of areas open to gold panning with a prospective gold prospector.
In this photo taken Tuesday, March 4, 2014, Heather Willis, manager of the Pioneer Mining Supply Co., goes over a map of areas open to gold panning with a prospective gold prospector.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
In this photo from Jan. 26, 2014, prospector sifts for gold in the Bear River near Colfax, Calif.
In this photo from Jan. 26, 2014, prospector sifts for gold in the Bear River near Colfax, Calif.   (KCRA3, KXTV10, KOVR13, KUVS19, KMAZ31, KTXL40)
In this photo taken Tuesday, March 4, 2014, Tim Amavisca, 38, displays a small vile of gold flakes found while gold panning along  the Bear River near Colfax, Calif.
In this photo taken Tuesday, March 4, 2014, Tim Amavisca, 38, displays a small vile of gold flakes found while gold panning along the Bear River near Colfax, Calif.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
In this photo from Jan. 26, 2014, prospector sifts for gold in the Bear River near Colfax, Calif.
In this photo from Jan. 26, 2014, prospector sifts for gold in the Bear River near Colfax, Calif.   (KCRA3, KXTV10, KOVR13, KUVS19, KMAZ31, KTXL40)
In this photo taken Tuesday, March 4, 2014, Tim Amavisca, 38, displays a small vile of gold flakes found while gold panning along  the Bear River near Colfax, Calif.
In this photo taken Tuesday, March 4, 2014, Tim Amavisca, 38, displays a small vile of gold flakes found while gold panning along the Bear River near Colfax, Calif.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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