Stories from California: Mining Our Future

The third in an eight-part series from multimedia documentarian jesikah maria ross about the people, land, and stories of rural California’s Cache Creek.

The need for aggregate goes along with growth. —Ben Adamo, Miner

If there’s anyone who knows about mining on Cache Creek, it’s Ben Adamo. Ben started in the mining industry in 1974, at age twenty-three, helping to weld together a gravel processing plant on land that is now the Cache Creek Nature Preserve. In the almost forty years since then, he has worked at most of the mining operations along the creek, performing just about every job. That gave him a front-row seat during the Yolo County “gravel wars” of the 80s and 90s, when a coalition of environmentalists, farmers, and other residents sought to shut down mining in the creek. It also gave him a clearer sense of how the mining industry can be part of the solution when it comes to environmental restoration and the importance of public—if sometime messy—conversations about land use policies.

Miners often get a bad rap on from environmentalists. Which makes sense, given that mining extraction tends to damage ecosystems. But we can limit the damage in any number of ways; usually, we try to minimize it by decreasing the mining or stopping it altogether. Another way, of course, is to change our lifestyles.

Take the example of gravel. As Ben’s story below points out, there is a direct link between gravel and growth, and as long as we want more houses, hospitals, highways, and other infrastructure, we’ll need to mine a whole lot of gravel. The question then is, What would we be willing to sacrifice to reduce gravel mining and, in turn, decrease damage to the creeks and riparian habitats where mining takes place?

Once damage is done there are ways to remediate it, like turning a gravel pit into a lush wetlands. That’s what happened at the Nature Preserve, and, as Ben points out, the history of mining on this land provides a model for what can be done when conflicting interests find common ground.

So how should we handle mining in the future? Shut it down or scale it back? Or change our needs and restore places after extraction? Which option do you prefer? —jesikah maria ross

Go here to learn more from Ben Adamo about the environmental history of Cache Creek. To read and listen to other perspectives on the history of the area, visit