18 F. 753 (D.Cal. 1884), Woodruff v. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Co.

Citation:18 F. 753
Case Date:January 07, 1884
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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18 F. 753 (D.Cal. 1884)




United States Circuit Court, D. California.

January 7, 1884

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George Cadwalader, I. S. Belcher, and John N. Pomeroy, for complainant.

Stewart & Herrin, J. K. Byrne, and W. C. Belcher, for defendants.


This is a bill in equity to restrain the defendants, being several mining companies, engaged in hydraulic mining on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains, from discharging their mining debris into the affluents of the Yuba river, and into the river itself, whence it is carried down by the current into Feather and Sacramento rivers, filling up their channels and injuring their navigation; and sometimes by overflowing and covering the neighboring lands with debris, injuring, and threatening to injure and destroy, the lands and property of the complainant, and of other property owners, situate on and adjacent to the banks of these water-courses. In March, 1882, the secretary of war transmitted to congress the official report of Lieut. Col. Mendell, of the 'corps of engineers, upon examinations and surveys to devise a system of works to prevent the further injury to the navigable waters of California from the debris of mines arising from hydraulic mining,' which surveys and report were made in pursuance of the act of congress relating to rivers and harbors, of June 14, 1880. This report, made in January, 1882, was introduced in evidence, and it has been quoted and recognized by both sides in the case as showing the injurious results of hydraulic and other mining up to its date, and the remedies attempted and suggested. It is also fully confirmed by the other evidence in the case, and by the condition of things as disclosed upon actual inspection and observation made by the judges who traversed and examined the country affected by the operations complained of, in the presence and with the consent of representatives of the respective parties and their counsel. Many of the facts in the general statement will, therefore, be taken in a condensed form from that report.

Hydraulic mining, as used in this opinion, is the process by which a bank of gold-bearing earth and rock is excavated by a jet of water, discharged through the converging nozzle of a pipe, under great pressure, the earth and debris being carried away by the same water, through sluices, and discharged on lower levels into the natural streams and water-courses below. Where the gravel or other material of the bank is cemented, or where the bank is composed of masses of pipe-clay, it is shattered by blasting with powder, sometimes from 15 to 20 tons of powder being used at one blast to break up a bank. In the early periods of hydraulic mining, as in 1855, the water was discharged through a rubber or canvas hose, with nozzles of not more than an inch in diameter; but later, upon the invention of the 'Little Giant' and the 'Monitor' machines, the size of the nozzle and the pressure were largely increased, till now the nozzle is from four to nine inches in diameter, discharging from 500 to 1,000 inches of water under a pressure of from three to four or five hundred feet .

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For example, an eight-inch nozzle, at the North Bloomfield mine, discharges 185,000 cubic feet of water in an hour, with a velocity of 150 feet per second. The excavating power of such a body of water, discharged with such velocity, is enormous; and, unless the gravel is very heavy or firmly cemented, it is much in excess of its transporting power. At some of the mines, as at the North Bloomfield, several of these Monitors are worked, much of the time, night and day, the several levels upon which they are at work being brilliantly illuminated by electric lights, the electricity being generated by water power. A night scene of the kind, at the North Bloomfield mine, is in the highest degree weird and startling, and it cannot fail to strike strangers with wonder and admiration. The amount of debris discharged into the rivers by these operations can only be duly appreciated by actual observation.

The Yuba river is a tributary of Feather river, entering it at Marysville, 30 miles above the mouth of the Feather, where the latter joins the Sacramento. It is the fourth river in size in the Sacramento valley, and drains about 1,330 square miles of the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains, comprising portions of Sierra, Nevada, and Yuba counties,-- its extreme breadth being about 36 miles, and its extreme length about 60 miles, excluding the 12 miles of its lower course from the foot-hills to its junction with Feather river at Marysville. The elevation of the Yuba basin above tide-water is from 200 feet at its lower parts to about 8,000 feet at the summit of the mountains; but the gold deposits of this basin only extend to an elevation of from four to five thousand feet, in a belt from 40 to 50 miles wide. The upper portion of the river is divided into five principal branches,-- the north, middle, and south Yubas, and Deer and Dry creeks. The first four-- Deer creek being nearly as large as the smallest main branch-- unite in the mountains before reaching the valley; Deer creek, not far from it; the last, Dry creek, joining the main river in the valley, shortly after it leaves the foot-hills. The debris complained of is mostly discharged into the middle and south Yubas and Deer creek, and their numerous smaller tributaries.

The auriferous deposit on the San Juan ridge, between the south and middle Yubas, embracing most of defendants' mines,-- and a larger part of the mines now actually worked being under their control,-- is much the largest and most important in the state, and is favorably situated for working; the beds of the ancient channels in which it lies being elevated several hundred feet above the beds of the Yubas and their affluents, and the annual floods of the Yuba may be relied on to carry off a large portion of the debris resulting from mining. Says the report referred to:

'The linear extent of the gravel channel and its branches on this ridge is about twenty-five miles. Deducting liberally for the portion already worked, and for that too deeply covered by lava to be available for hydraulic mining, there remain, probably, not less than fourteen miles of channel available for

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washing, from which only a comparatively small portion of the top gravel has been removed. Below San Juan the gravel body has a surface width of over one thousand feet, and is, say, one hundred and forty feet deep. From Badger Hill to Bloomfield, it is for the greater portion very much wider and deeper. At Columbia Hill, its surface width varies from three thousand or four thousand to eight thousand feet, and it is from three hundred to six hundred feet deep. The gravel at Lake City is probably three hundred or four hundred feet deep. At North Bloomfield it is opened to the bed-rock, showing a depth of more than three hundred feed. Roughly estimating the average width of the remaining gravel range at four hundred yards, and, after allowing for the portion worked off, placing its average depth at seventy yards, the sum is an average of, say, fifty million yards per mile, or, for fourteen miles, say seven hundred million yards.'

'Allowing for the amount washed since 1876, one hundred million yards, there remain six hundred million to be removed;' adding to this the estimated amount still remaining to be worked at Smartsville, lower down the river, and the amount remaining to be washed will appear. Says Col. Mendell: 'Seven hundred million of cubic yards may be assumed to represent the amount of gravel remaining to be worked by hydraulic process, tributary to the Yuba. ' Approximately, then, according to the evidence, over 100,000,000 of cubic yards in these mines have been washed out by the hydraulic process, and the debris deposited in the Yuba and its affluents; and 700,000,000 more remain to be washed out, and its debris deposited in these water-courses in the same manner.

The following shows some of the results of former washings, and unmistakably indicates what must result from a continuance of the work. The Yuba, with its branches and smaller affluents, were necessarily characterized by heavy grades, the waters falling about 8,000 feet in a distance of 90 or 100 miles from their extreme sources to the Feather river. They ran through deep, rocky canyons and gorges, over a rough rocky bottom, with frequent rapids, and water-falls of greater or less height, and there were many deep holes excavated by the action of the water at the foot of falls, rapids, and the like. The beds of all these streams, from the very dumps of the higher mines to the junction of the main Yuba with Feather river, a distance of 75 miles or more, have all been filled up many feet deep,-- at some places to the depth of 150 feet,-- and all the streams have regularly graded themselves, so that a railroad track might be laid upon their beds for the whole distance,-- the grade, of course, being steeper in the upper parts, but equally regular.

Thus, the main branches of the Yuba and Deer creek, Shady creek, Bloody run, Grizzly canyon, Humbug canyon, and the other smaller tributaries, all exhibit this result. There are many square miles, in the aggregate, in the beds of these streams, buried many feet deep with debris, and these channels are choked and clogged with it,-- the heavier material being deposited higher up and the lighter passing further down. Most of it will from year to year be carried further down, and ultimately find its way to the valley. The transporting

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capacity of the water, however, is unequal to the task of carrying off all the...

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