1.5 Sacramento River Basin Report Card

1.5.1 Sacramento River Basin Geography

The Sacramento River and its watershed is California’s most precious resource. “The future of California is joined at the hip with the Sacramento River” says University of California geologist, Dr. Jeff Mount. The Sacramento River has always been a “river of life” and never more so than right now.

Located in central northern California, the Sacramento River is the largest river system and basin in the state. The 27,000 square mile watershed includes the eastern slopes of the Coast Ranges, Mount Shasta, and the western slopes of the southernmost region of the Cascades and the northern portion of the Sierra Nevada. The Sacramento River, stretching from the Oregon border to the Bay-Delta, carries 31% of the state’s total runoff water. Primary tributaries to the Sacramento River include the Pit, McCloud, Feather, and American rivers.

California’s largest watershed provides drinking water for two-thirds of the State including Southern California, supplies farmers and ranchers with the lifeblood of California’s agricultural industry, and is a vital organ for hundreds of wildlife species, including four separate runs of Chinook salmon. It is also the home of over two million Northern Californians. From the mountains, to the valley, to the small towns and cities, it is the place where we live, work, and recreate. Fittingly, the health of this watershed directly affects our quality of life. As the state’s and the watershed’s population continues to burgeon over the next decade, it is important to track watershed conditions and trends. In an effort to help better understand some of the relationships between social, economic, and environmental conditions, and watershed management actions, SRWP launched the Report Card in 2008, focusing on the Feather River Watershed for the first evaluation.

Figure 1.3. Sacramento River Basin

1.5.2 Subwatershed Geography

North Fork Feather River

The North Fork Feather River arises from the snow-clad flanks of Mount Lassen, in Lassen National Park, and flows unimpeded to Lake Almanor, a Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E)-operated hdyro-power reservoir with major recreational use. This subwatershed is home to old-growth conifer forest as well as actively managed/logged public and private forestlands and towns along with hundreds of miles of dirt roads and historic railroad logging grades. From Lake Almanor downstream, the North Fork waters are diverted out of, and then back into, the river to supply the numerous PG&E powerhouses that form the ‘Stairway of Power’ in the North Fork Feather River Canyon, until entering the State Water Project Oroville Reservoir. The subwatershed is actively monitored by the US Forest Service (USFS), PG&E and other agencies.

Middle Fork Feather River

The Middle Fork Feather River arises from the confluence of numerous tributaries of Sierra Valley, the largest montane valley in the Sierra Nevada. The Middle Fork Feather River is one of the original federally-designated Wild and Scenic River systems. The watershed is home to old-growth conifer forest as well as actively managed/logged public and private forestlands, agricultural production and towns along with hundreds of miles of dirt roads and historic railroad logging grades. After providing the bulk of agricultural water supplies in Sierra Valley and Mohawk Valleys, the Middle Fork descends into an un-roaded canyon, popular with flyfishers, backpackers and whitewater enthusiasts. The watershed is actively monitored by the FRCRM, Upper Feather River Irrigated Lands Group and USFS. For the Report Card, the south fork of the Feather River was combined with the Middle Fork. It is a small, high precipitation watershed that is home to old-growth conifer forest as well as actively managed/logged public and private forestlands, towns, an extensive mining legacy, along with hundreds of miles of dirt roads. Little Grass Valley Reservoir, in the upper watershed, provides agricultural and drinking water supplies as well as supporting heavy recreational use.

East Branch North Fork Feather River

The East Branch North Fork Feather River stems from eastern Plumas County, south of Honey Lake. The river flows westward through the Plumas National Forest through Indian Valley. It joins the North Fork Feather River near the town of Belden. This subwatershed is primarily publicly-owned as National Forest. The watershed is home to old-growth conifer forest as well as actively managed/logged public and private forestlands, agricultural production, towns, undammed creeks and rivers, mining legacies, along with hundreds of miles of dirt roads and historic railroad logging grades. The watershed is actively monitored by FRCRM, the Upper Feather River Irrigated Lands Group and USFS.

Lower Feather River

The Lower Feather River originates from Lake Oroville and flows generally south across the Sacramento Valley, east of the Sutter Buttes, past Oroville and Yuba City, and discharges to the Sacramento River approximately 20 miles north of Sacramento. Agriculture is the single largest land use in the subwatershed, making up roughly 60% of all lands. The Lower Feather River is an important habitat for fall- and spring-run Chinook salmon. The Sutter County Resource Conservation District has recently developed a management plan for the subwatershed.

North Yuba

The North Yuba River begins just to the East of Sierra City and flows into the New Bullards Bar Reservoir. The North Yuba landscape is primarily publicly-owned as National Forest. The watershed is home to old-growth conifer forest, actively logged plantations, towns, undammed creeks and rivers, mining legacies, and hundreds of miles of dirt roads. The watershed is actively monitored by the SYRCL and USFS.

Middle Yuba

The Middle Yuba River begins at Jackson Meadows Reservoir, flows through Gold Canyon, and joins the North Yuba just downstream of the New Bullards Bar Dam. Mining operations around Alleghany and Forest City are still active and three dams provide irrigation water and power to nearby communities. The SYRCL conducts watershed monitoring activities.

South Yuba

The South Yuba River begins at Lake Spaulding and joins the North and Middle Yuba Rivers at Englebright Reservoir. Thirty-nine miles of the South Yuba River is designated Wild and Scenic, where the majority of the watershed is either logged or undisturbed hardwood and conifer forest. Like all three Upper Yuba Watershed rivers, the South Yuba has considerable hydraulic mining damage and residue. The watershed is monitored by the SYRCL.

Deer Creek

The headwaters of Deer Creek stem from the Sierra Nevada foothills at 4000’ elevation. The creek winds its way though pine forests, oak woodlands, towns and pastures. At 600’ elevation and 34 miles from its source, Deer Creek joins the Yuba River. Hydraulic mining debris remains from past gold-mining operations. Friends of Deer Creek conducts water quality monitoring within the subwatershed.

Lower Yuba

The Lower Yuba River originates at Englebright Reservoir east of Marysville and meets the Feather River near Yuba City. The river flows through a floodplain where large quantities of hydraulic mining debris remain from past gold-mining operations. Small tributary creeks flow into the lower Yuba, which becomes narrow and levee constrained when it joins the Lower Feather River.

Upper Bear River

The Bear River rises on the westside of the Sierra Nevada just West of Spaulding reservoir at 5500’ elevation. It flows southwest through the Lower Bear Watershed for approximately 65 miles to its confluence with the Feather River. The Upper Bear is fed by natural springs and supports a wild trout fishery. The upper watershed consists of mixed conifer and pine forests. Bear River Coordinated Resource Management Program (CRMP) conducts water quality monitoring.

Lower Bear River

The Lower Bear River is a tributary to the Feather River. The lower watershed is dominated by grasslands and agricultural production. A high volume of mining sediment, in combination with flood-restricting levees, has caused the Lower Bear River to change from wide and shallow to deeply incised. Bear River CRMP conducts water quality monitoring and the US Geological Survey (USGS) conducts mercury studies in the subwatershed.

1.5.3. Technical Advisory Committee and Stakeholders

Advising the formulation of the Report Card has been a team of regional experts participating on a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). These experts included representatives from DWR, Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (CVRWCB), California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), California Department of Conservation (DOC), and local Resource Conservation Districts (RCD). The initial meeting of the TAC resulted in the identification of the focus watershed and discussion of goals and objectives and selection criteria. The TAC also discussed potential indicators appropriate for the goals and objectives. Subsequent meetings of the TAC resulted in fine-tuning and narrowing of the goals and objectives, finalizing selection criteria and indicators, and identifying appropriate data sources.

In addition to the TAC, SRWP partnered with a local watershed group, the FRCRM within the Feather River Watershed, to serve as a sounding board, to review material, and provide watershed data to the WHIP team. In November 2008, the FRCRM coordinated a stakeholder meeting in Quincy to provide a forum for the WHIP team to gather information and feedback from local stakeholders regarding the pilot study. SRWP and WHIP Team also presented details of the project and gathered input at a variety of stakeholders meetings throughout the watershed.

1.5.4. Report Card Outputs

There were two outputs of this Report Card project: (1) Feather River Watershed Report Card, which provides a summary of the goals and objectives and corresponding scores for subwatershed conditions along with the trend in condition and level of confidence in findings, and (2) this Technical Report, which includes more detailed information for each of the 16 indicators including:

  • Condition score, trend, and level of certainty
  • Corresponding goal and objective
  • Corresponding WAF attribute
  • Description of the indicator
  • Explanation of why the indicator is important
  • Description of the target or desired condition
  • Portrayal of what can influence conditions
  • Summary of the data analysis and results
  • Explanation about the level of certainty