As the gold became more difficult to extract, profound changes in California took root. By the early 1850s, a single miner could no longer work his claim alone. He needed help and he needed technology.
At first, miners banded together in informal companies to dam the rivers, reroute the water and expose the gold underneath. But soon even more capital-intensive measures were needed to extract the gold and the loose knit groups of miners were replaced by corporations. By the mid 1850s, most of the miners who remained were employees, a way of life they found distasteful but necessary.
The new mining corporations developed extraction techniques that were frighteningly efficient-- techniques that destroyed the rivers and caused California's first environmental disasters. Massive derricks lifted rock and sand--obliterating the formerly pristine rivers.
The worst of the large scale mining techniques came in 1853: hydraulic mining. Huge jets of water tore apart the walls of the riverbeds--jets so powerful, they could kill a man two-hundred feet away. By the 1860s it was clear that hydraulic mining was destroying the landscape, but little was done to stop it. Californians still had an attitude of exploitation--an attitude the miners had from the beginning.
It took over thirty years to ban hydraulic mining--thirty years to change California's attitude of exploitation. The rivers of northern California would never return to their pristine state. But then no part of California would be the same after the gold rush.