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An environmental history of California during the Gold Rush.
Between 1849 and 1874 almost $1 billion in gold was mined in California. With little available capital or labor, here's how: high-pressure water cannons washed hillsides into sluices that used mercury to trap gold but let the soil wash away; eventually more than three times the amount of earth moved to make way for the Panama Canal entered California's rivers, leaving behind twenty tons of mercury every mile – rivers overflowed their banks and valleys were flooded, the land poisoned. In the rush to wealth, the same chain of foreseeable consequences reduced California's forests and grasslands.