Dams and Hydropower

PG&E’s Spaulding Dam on the South Yuba River

Since the latter part of the nineteenth century the Yuba River watershed has included many manmade structures to manage its magnificent water flows. Originally, structures were placed for hydraulic mining and to attempt to address some of the massive hydraulic mining debris flows. Others were placed or repurposed to provide mechanical and electric power and provide irrigation and drinking water, much of it exported out of the watershed.

In accordance with Federal Power Act, many of these historic structures became part of federally regulated hydroelectric power projects.  Project works owned and operated by Nevada Irrigation District become the Yuba-Bear project, and those operated by PG&E became the Drum-Spaulding project. The other major hydropower project in the Yuba River watershed was constructed by the Yuba County Water Agency and includes New Bullards Bar Dam on the North Yuba River, Our House Dam on the Middle Yuba River and Log Cabin Dam on Oregon Creek.

Hydropower dams and diversions in the Yuba watershed
Hydropower dams and diversions in the Yuba watershed (click for larger view)

For links to the websites for these projects, information on their relicensing process, and a map of their hydrologic effects in the Yuba River Watershed, go to the Hydropower webpage at the Yuba River Watershed Information System.

FERC licenses specify minimum instream flows below dams and many other project related conditions. The FERC Handbook for Project Licensing describes the Integrated Licensing Process that makes clear that relicensing is meant to be a collaborative process that includes conservation groups.

SYRCL works with a diverse coalition of conservation groups through the process of hydropower project relicensing. Support is provided by the California Hydropower Reform Coalition, and local coordination occurs through the Foothill Water Network. Partners include the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, the Sierra Club, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, California Trout, Friends of the River, and American Whitewater.  SYRCL and its partner organizations remain actively engaged through the Foothills Water Network in seeking agreements in both the YBDS and YRDP relicensing, and the potential licensing of a new project at Daguerre Point Dam.  These processes require constant vigilance  and skillful effort to protect and restore the Yuba River watershed.