Pit River Watershed


Pit River Watershed – Fall River

Big Lake Complex: The lava springs feeding the Big Lake Complex, the headwaters of the Tule River, are the source of 75% of the water in the Fall River and supply about 85% of the flow of the Pit River during the summer months. The Complex consists of five contiguous bodies of water: Big Lake, Horr Pond, the Upper Tule River, the Little Tule River, and Eastman Lake, whose combined surface area exceeds 1100 acres.

PG&E owns five miles of the south shore of Big Lake, 2 miles along the east shore of the Little Tule River, and most of the inundated area. A levee on this shoreline protects the reclaimed McArthur Swamp owned by PG&E from inundation. Much of the northern shoreline is in Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park. There is only one public boat launching site, the Rat Farm site on the south shore.

The 10 mph speed limit on motorized boats is conducive to enjoyable canoeing and wildlife viewing. There are nine boat-in campsites on the north shore in the State Park, where a multitude of lava springs feed crystal clear cool water into the many coves and inlets. Skillful trout anglers often catch large trout in these cool water habitats, and good-sized large-mouth bass can be caught in warmer portions of the lakes.

The Big Lake Complex and adjoining McArthur Swamp are heavily utilized by waterfowl. A number of special status species, including bald eagles and greater sandhill cranes, have been observed on the PG&E lands. Three special status species, Shasta crayfish, rough sculpin, and bigeye marbled sculpin, are found in Big Lake.

McArthur Swamp: McArthur Swamp is a 7,400-acre area of reclaimed wetlands and open water north of the town of McArthur and south of Big Lake and the Tule River. It provides valuable waterfowl habitat on the Pacific Flyway and is also grazed. PG&E proposes to donate McArthur Swamp and the nearby parcel acquired by a land trade with State Parks (see Lake Britton) to the California Waterfowl Association., which is to manage it subject to a strict easement. The easement will preserve the wildlife habitat and other environmental values of McArthur Swamp, while allowing continuation of grazing, which will be carefully controlled to benefit waterfowl habitat.

Fall River: The Fall River, known for producing large wild rainbow trout, is a state-designated wild trout stream and one of the outstanding wild trout fisheries in the United States. The 150-acre parcel of watershed land, known as the “Dredge Site”, is one of the three public access points to the Fall River. The other access points are upstream access at Island Bridge and a less convenient site on Big Lake. The Land Conservation Plan should provide for continuing boat access at the Dredge Site, which is not within the FERC license boundary.

Fall River Lake: Fall River Lake (also known as Pit 1 Forebay) is a 225-acre impoundment near the town of Fall River Mills. The nearly constant water level of the lake and low relief of the shoreline create ideal conditions for marsh, tule, and riparian habitats with emergent and aquatic vegetation for waterfowl, bitterns, herons, and other water birds. Local residents are the principal users of the fishery for bass and trout. There is an unimproved launch ramp. PG&E owns the entire 3.5 mile shoreline and about 1,900 acres of land, including lands between Fall River Lake and the Pit 1 Powerhouse. Only a narrow strip along the lakeshore is within the FERC license boundary.

Pit River Watershed – Pit River Canyon This description of the watershed lands along the Pit River from the Fall River to the Pit 7 Powerhouse is divided into six segments which “go with the flow” (upstream to downstream).

Pit River, from Fall River to Pit 1 Powerhouse: In this 5-mile reach, PG&E owns a narrow strip around the river and scattered parcels with about 1-3/4 miles of river frontage. There is good riparian vegetation of alder, cottonwood, and willow. Nesting bank swallows, a state threatened species, have been observed in the Powerhouse area. Active nesting osprey, golden eagles, prairie falcon, and black swift have been observed in the recent past.

Most of the flow is diverted into a tunnel from Fall River Lake to the Pit 1 Powerhouse. This stretch could become an excellent fishing stream if releases from the Pit 1 Diversion Dam into the river were substantially increased during the relicensing process. All of the watershed lands are outside FERC license boundaries. BLM owns lands close to this reach and contiguous with PG&E lands along about 2 miles of the river.

Pit River, Pit 1 Powerhouse to Lake Britton: In the 6-mile reach below the Pit 1 Powerhouse, PG&E owns a broader strip of land along the river, a quarter-mile or more on each side. Like the segment upstream, this stretch also has good riparian vegetation. None of the flow is diverted, and this stretch is a good producer of large wild rainbow trout. One of the largest populations of Shasta crayfish, a state and federal endangered species, occurs a short distance downstream from the Pit 1 Powerhouse in Sucker Spring Creek. The river is suitable for whitewater boating when peaking flows are being released. All of the watershed lands are outside FERC license boundaries. Public lands in a rather complex ownership pattern – BLM lands to the east, Forest Service lands to the west – are contiguous with the watershed lands along almost all of this stretch.

Lake Britton: The Pit 3 Dam impounds Lake Britton, a 1,265-acre reservoir inundating eight miles of the Pit River at 2740´ elevation. The beautiful shoreline is forested with pines and oaks. At the head of the lake, there is marsh and riparian habitat, and the abundant wildlife includes bald eagles, great blue herons, and belted kingfishers. Future management should preserve this important natural area. The watershed lands are important winter range for the Lake Britton deer herd.

Lake Britton is a popular destination for bass and trout fishing, waterskiing, swimming and picnicking. PG&E operates three campgrounds, which had 9,600 visitors in 1996. The lake has an abundance of large mouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and catfish, and smaller populations of trout.

PG&E owns 21 of the 22 miles of shoreline. The forested watershed lands around Lake Britton are adjacent to national forest lands over a substantial part of their boundary. The remaining mile of the shoreline lies within McArthur-Burney Falls State Park. McArthur-Burney Falls State Park includes a 182-acre parcel leased from PG&E which provides important shoreline access. PG&E and State Parks have agreed to a land exchange; the 182-acre parcel would be traded to State Parks in exchange for a parcel in Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park. Most of this parcel was inundated by failure of a PG&E levee and is now part of the Big Lake Complex. This exchange, to be considered as part of the Land Conservation Plan, would significantly benefit McArthur-Burney Falls State Park.

Some of the earth’s largest deposits of fresh-water diatomaceous earth occur in the vicinity of Lake Britton and lower Hat Creek. There are two existing mines on the watershed lands, one of them now depleted. Future management must ensure that depleted mines are restored and that future mining, if any, adequately protects wildlife habitat, the fisheries, and other public benefits of the watershed lands.

The “Pit Reach Road” begins at the western end of Lake Britton and runs westerly adjacent to the Pit River to the community of Big Bend, a short distance below the Pit 5 Dam. It provides access to the river at a number of points where the canyon slopes are not too steep.

Pit River, Lake Britton to Pit 4 Forebay Dam: PG&E owns 560 acres of forested land with 1.5 miles of river frontage just below the Pit 3 Dam and Lake Britton. Most of the boundary of these watershed lands, which are outside the FERC license boundary, is contiguous with national forest land. Below these lands, the river flows through national forest land to the Pit 3 Powerhouse.

In 1987, FERC ordered increased releases of up to 150 cubic feet per second from Pit 3 Dam, which impounds Lake Britton. These increased flows have created an excellent trout fishery within a formerly dewatered stream reach that supported few trout. The watershed lands provide public access to a popular “catch and release” wild trout fishery. The forest is old growth or late-successional Douglas fir, which is used by bald eagles and spotted owls. Logging of the steeply sloping land would impair late-successional wildlife values and run a high risk of degrading the stream.

The Pit 4 Forebay, a 106-acre broadened stretch of the river, is a popular day-use and fishing area. Boating is not permitted.

Pit River, Pit 4 Forebay Dam to Pit 4 Powerhouse: There are no PG&E lands along this stretch of the Pit River, which flows through a broad area of national forest land.

Pit River, Pit 4 Powerhouse to Pit 5 Powerhouse: This 11-mile stretch of the Pit River is known as the Big Bend section. PG&E owns a continuous though narrow band of land on both sides of the river, except for two stretches totaling about 2 miles. PG&E also owns a strip of watershed lands south of the river on the route of the Diversion tunnels from the Pit 5 Dam to the Pit 5 Powerhouse; this strip is up to a mile wide. Only the land occupied by hydroelectric facilities is within the FERC license boundary. Almost all the boundaries of these watershed lands are contiguous with other private ownerships.

Below the Pit 5 diversion, the river is very fertile and produces numerous 1-2 pound wild rainbow trout, even though most of the flow has been diverted. When flows are increased by relicensing, this stretch of river will become an exceptional trout producer. Construction of a hiking trail along this stretch of river would significantly enhance public access.

Pit River, Pit 5 Powerhouse to Pit 7 Afterbay Dam: Almost all of the 13 miles of the Pit River between Pit 5 Powerhouse and the Pit 7 Afterbay Dam have been inundated by the Pit 6 and Pit 7 Reservoirs. These reservoirs are narrow impoundments with steep shorelines. They have no recreational facilities and little or no public road access and public use. The reservoirs support an abundance of nongame fish, several of which are state species of special concern: hardhead, Pit roach, and bigeye marbled sculpin. The reservoirs are not stocked with trout because they are poor trout habitat and public use is very limited. However, small numbers of wild rainbow trout are present, particularly in the colder water near the mouths of tributary creeks. Anglers can access the river only by long hikes down old jeep and project roads. Recreational use of the reservoirs could be improved by developing parking and shore access for non-motorized watercraft along existing PG&E project roads. Below the Pit 5 Powerhouse, the Pit River flows through both PG&E watershed lands and national forest lands. The watershed lands in this stretch are mostly contiguous to other private ownerships.

Roaring, Little Roaring and Marble Creeks watersheds: The watersheds of these creeks are densely forested with Douglas fir which is sustainably harvested by PG&E. The PG&E lands include the lower watersheds of Roaring and Little Roaring Creeks and most of the watershed of Marble Creek and a total of 11 miles of stream frontage. All of these creeks contain an abundance of small rainbow trout, but receive only light public use.