Gold Rush Hurts River Life in North Carolina

"ELDORADO -- Gold prospectors chasing $1,600-an-ounce flecks in river bottoms east of Charlotte also might be sucking life out of the streams, experts say."

"As the price of gold mounts, some weekend prospectors have turned to machines called suction dredges. The devices work like underwater vacuum cleaners, sucking gravel and dirt into sluice boxes that catch any gold and dump other material back into the river.

That's a problem for anything living on the bottom, including mussels, fish eggs and aquatic insects, which can be killed by the machines or smothered in stirred-up sediment. California placed a moratorium on the practice in 2009 because of its damage to spawning salmon.

North Carolina requires no permits for recreational prospecting. But increased pressure from enthusiasts has raised concern on the Uwharrie River, which flows through the gold-rich heart of the Piedmont about 50 miles east of Charlotte."

Bruce Henderson reports for the Charlotte Observer October 31, 2011.

Source: Charlotte Observer, 11/01/2011