Feather River (and Butte Creek) Watersheds

 

North Fork Feather River watershed

  • Lake Almanor
  • Mountain Meadows Reservoir
  • Hamilton Branch of the North Fork Feather River
  • Butt Valley Reservoir
  • Yellow Creek and Humbug Valley
  • North Fork Feather River
  • Bucks Lake

 

West Branch Feather River watershed

  • Philbrook Lake

 

Butte Creek watershed

  • Butte Creek

 

North Fork Feather River watershed

Lake Almanor: Lake Almanor, with a surface area of 28,000 acres and 52 miles of shoreline, is the largest lake in the PG&E hydroelectric system. About 12 miles of the shoreline are owned by PG&E, including a continuous strip of several miles along the southeast shoreline. The PG&E lands along the lakeshore enhance the scenic beauty of the lake, provide wildlife habitat, and provide lake access and land for campgrounds and multi-use trails. About 8 miles of the southwest shoreline are national forest land. PG&E operates six campgrounds with a total of 320 units; there were 62,000 visits to these campgrounds in 1996. Recreational facilities at Lake Almanor are usually fully utilized between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Gould Swamp, the upper arm of Lake Almanor north of the Chester causeway, is a flooded meadow at high water and mudflats and marsh at low water. It is excellent habitat that is heavily used by shorebirds and waterfowl. Special-status species observed in the area include bald eagle, northern goshawk, and greater sandhill crane. About half of the 7.5 miles of Gould Swamp’s shoreline (about 450 acres of dry land) is owned by PG&E. Future ownership and management of these upland parcels must protect this exceptional habitat.

Mountain Meadows Reservoir: Mountain Meadows Reservoir is a 5,800-acre impoundment on the Hamilton Branch of the North Fork Feather River. The lake is shallow and the marshy shoreline has high wildlife values, particularly for waterfowl. Threatened, endangered, sensitive, or other special status species that occur or potentially occur at the lake include 41 plants, 12 mammals, 10 birds, 6 amphibians, and one invertebrate. Noteworthy species known to occur include the bald eagle, greater sandhill crane, great blue heron, black-crowned night heron, white-faced ibis, osprey, kingfisher, and a very high density of nesting waterfowl, including the beautiful wood duck.

PG&E owns the entire 22-mile shoreline, and none of the 1,900 acres owned by PG&E is under FERC license. A 6,000-acre development, which would include a ski resort, golf course, lodging, and 1,000 or more dwelling units, has been proposed at Dyer Mountain adjacent to the southwest shore of Mountain Meadows Reservoir. If the development is constructed, future management of the PG&E lands must attempt to protect the reservoir and the exceptional wildlife habitat of the meadows and marshes around it.

Hamilton Branch of the North Fork Feather River: The Hamilton Branch flows from Mountain Meadows Reservoir to Lake Almanor. Although PG&E diverts a substantial portion of the flow for power generation, the stream is still unusually attractive and is an excellent producer of wild trout. PG&E owns a narrow corridor of land along the entire six miles of the stream. The corridor helps protect the excellent riparian and aquatic habitats of the stream and provides access to anglers and other visitors, public benefits which future management must safeguard.

Butt Valley Reservoir: This large reservoir, with a surface area of 1,600 acres, is about 4 miles south of Lake Almanor. PG&E owns a narrow strip along the entire 12 miles of shoreline, which is contiguous almost everywhere with national forest land. Butt Valley Reservoir is well known as an important trophy trout fishing area. Boating, swimming, and camping are also popular recreational activities. PG&E has developed two campgrounds with 93 units at the lake.

Yellow Creek and Humbug Valley: Yellow Creek, a tributary of the North Fork Feather River, meanders slowly through meadow lands in Humbug Valley. PG&E originally acquired the 2,300 acres of watershed lands as a potential reservoir site. These watershed lands, which are not within a FERC license boundary, lie between blocks of national forest land to the west and east.

The lands are now used for grazing and recreation. Heavy past grazing has caused severe stream bank erosion, and downcutting of the stream (by as much as four feet in many places) has lowered the water table in the upper part of the valley. If the water table were higher, the meadows could again become lush habitat. Cal Trout volunteers have worked on cattle exclusion fencing since the early 1980s.

Unfortunately, heavy winter snows and hungry cattle frequently break down the fences, allowing grazing cattle to set back the recovery of riparian vegetation. The area is popular with anglers. Yellow Creek is part of the state Wild Trout Program and is managed for catch-and-release angling, primarily for brown trout. Cal Trout and other stakeholders have formed a working group to prepare a management plan for the entire watershed.

PG&E maintains a public campground at Yellow Creek, which had 1,692 visitors in 1996. The campground is not required by the FERC license. Humbug Valley is on The Nature Conservancy's priority list for their Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Plan. The Department of Fish and Game has expressed interest in managing this property.

North Fork Feather River: Before the 1920’s, the 123 miles of the North Fork of the Feather River between its source on the southern slopes of Mount Lassen and its confluence with the Middle Fork at Oroville were nationally famous for trophy-sized rainbow trout. Enormous springs gushing from volcanic formations north of present-day Lake Almanor produced flows of cool water generally exceeding 1000 cfs, even at the driest times of year. These flows were ideal for trout and for the historically abundant spring-run Chinook salmon.

By 1965, most of the river had either been inundated by reservoirs or dewatered by hydropower diversions which reduced flows by 85 to 95 percent. Today a fair to good fishery for smaller rainbow trout still exists between Lake Almanor and the confluence with the East Fork near Belden. There is only a poor to fair fishery downstream from the confluence with the East Fork to Poe Dam. Between Poe Dam and Oroville Reservoir, deficient flows and warm water have nearly eliminated the trout fishery. Although the Feather River fishery is at best fair to good, anglers are still attracted to the North Fork Feather River. The Department of Fish and Game does some stocking. Stream flow increases in the river upstream from Poe Dam have been proposed in the current FERC relicensing. These increases could potentially improve the trout fishery and provide other recreational benefits.

PG&E owns at least 18 miles of river frontage in the Feather River Canyon, mostly patented placer mining claims within the flood channel or the adjacent flood plain. The total area of these lands is several thousand acres. The canyon slopes are almost entirely national forest land. The PG&E lands are important for maintaining riparian habitat, for providing public access to the river, and for preserving the scenic beauty of the canyon. The Forest Service has designated the stretch of Highway 70 in the canyon as a National Scenic Byway.

Bucks Lake: Bucks Lake, with a surface area of 5200 acres, is the second largest lake in the PG&E system. PG&E owns lands around the east end and southern shore of the lake, including some nice meadow land in Haskins Valley east of the lake. The PG&E lands are almost everywhere contiguous with national forest land. PG&E owns about 40% of the lakeshore; the rest is national forest land. The lands under FERC license, a fairly narrow band around the lake, hence include a strip of national forest land. The boundary of the Bucks Lake Wilderness is very close to several miles of the eastern shoreline.

Bucks Lake is an extremely popular recreation area. There are two PG&E campgrounds at the lake, where nearly 20,000 visits were recorded in 1996. Bucks Lake supports a significant fishery for kokanee salmon and rainbow, brown, and eastern brook trout. Although all of these species are annually stocked in the lake, there is some natural reproduction in tributaries. Special status species, including bald eagle, peregrine falcon, osprey, northern spotted owl, and willow flycatcher are known to occur at the lake.

West Branch Feather River watershed

Philbrook Lake: Philbrook Lake, with a surface area of 190 acres, is a fairly popular recreation area, even though it is somewhat remote and late-summer drawdowns are substantial. PG&E facilities include a campground and a boat launch, and the lake is stocked with trout. PG&E owns the eastern third of the shoreline; the rest of the shoreline is national forest land. PG&E also owns about 120 acres of watershed lands north and east of the lake, which are almost entirely contiguous with national forest land. Only a narrow strip around the lake is included in the FERC license. Philbrook Lake is adjacent to the High Lakes roadless area and serves as a staging area for hikers and motorized recreation. Butte Creek - Photo courtesy PG&E

Butte Creek watershed

Butte Creek: This sizable tributary of the Sacramento River, which flows immediately southeast of Chico, has cut a scenic, basalt-rimmed canyon, wooded primarily with blue oak, through a 50 million year old lava flow. Butte Creek is a beautiful stream, characterized by deep pools and small cascades and well shaded by riparian woodlands.

Butte Creek Canyon has unusually significant fish and wildlife values. The Canyon is within the winter range of the Eastern Tehama Deer Herd, the largest migratory deer herd in California, whose size was estimated at nearly 60,000 in the 1980’s. Deer winter range is being lost to onrushing development throughout California.

Of equal ecological significance, Butte Creek supports the largest remaining population of naturally-produced spring-run Chinook salmon in California, with recent run sizes approaching 10,000 adults.

Spring-run Chinook salmon, a state-listed threatened species and a candidate for federal listing, formerly occurred in most large Sierra Nevada streams. The Central Valley population historically varied from 250,000 to over a million adults. Today, remnant wild populations of a few hundred to several thousand fish occur in only a few northern Sacramento River tributaries, including Butte, Deer, and Mill Creeks, and in two tributaries of the Klamath River. Spring-run Chinook, unlike the much more abundant fall-run Chinook, migrate up creeks during the spring, hold over through the hot summer months in deep headwater pools, and spawn in the fall. This behavior makes them unusually vulnerable to poaching and human disturbance, which could substantially increase with increased human settlement adjacent to the holding habitats.

Butte Creek Canyon is within the ranges of 30 fish and wildlife species and 16 plant species that are considered to be rare, endangered, or sensitive. Wildlife species observed along Butte Creek are the southern bald eagle, the northwestern pond turtle, and the foothill yellow-legged frog. Observed plant species include the Butte County fritillary, the obtuse starwort, and the white-stemmed clarkia. More common wildlife include bobcat, black bear, mink, river otter, and rainbow trout.

PG&E owns nearly 1,900 acres of land along about 8 miles of Butte Creek upstream from Centerville Powerhouse. Most of the PG&E lands along Butte Creek are outside FERC license boundaries. Butte Creek Canyon is within commuting distance of Chico and Paradise, and rural subdivision development is booming downstream from the PG&E lands.

The PG&E lands along Butte Creek, together with adjacent public lands and Timber Preserve Zone lands, include much of the upper Butte Creek watershed. Cooperative management of these lands would protect much of the upper watershed from development and constitute a significant wildlife corridor. Donation of the PG&E lands to a public agency would facilitate cooperative management. The state has recently spent millions of dollars removing some downstream dams, improving fish screens and fish ladders at other downstream dams, and purchasing water rights to benefit Butte Creek salmon. Keeping the PG&E lands in an undeveloped condition would help preserve this large public investment in the Butte Creek salmon fishery. The Department of Fish and Game supports public acquisition.