Before we ever see water in Deer Creek, most of it has rained, snowed, and been stored in NID’s Mountain Division and PG&E Lakes. It’s moved from lake to lake, going through multiple powerhouses, generating electricity. It enters Scotts Flat Lake where swimmers, motor boaters, and fisherman enjoy it. Flowing into Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir, human or wind-powered boaters recreate on it.
Another portion of water entering Deer Creek comes from the watershed. A watershed is an area of land that channels water to a low point, such as a stream, river, lake, or ocean.
History of Water Management in Nevada County: 1850 Water Business is Born
Placer miners needed water for rockers; hydraulic miners needed it to move mountains.
The first miner’s ditch, to which PG&E traces its tap root, was built in 1850 by The Rock Creek Water Company. Historians locate this ditch is near Coyote Hill. Constructed by Charles Marsh, William Crawford, John & Thomas Dunn, and C. Carol at a cost of $10K, the ditch was nine miles long.
After only two weeks of operation, The Rock Creek Water Company investment paid off.
Successful, and profitable, water transportation soon spread to neighboring counties— Placer, Eldorado, Amador, Calaveras, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne County.
Before water management, Deer Creek was seasonal.
An 1854 drought caused local economic hardship. Mines stopped working, miners couldn’t pay debts, and real estate values crashed.
After assessing the lakes in the Yuba Watershed, water companies understood that gravity and elevation would work in their favor. They built systems to move water to the mines using flumes, tunnels, high-pressure pipes, siphons, and trestle bridges.
The water transportation system was an engineering marvel of its time.
Early engineers and savvy businessmen realized the potential of a year-round water supply for ranching, mills, and establishing towns.
When the Sawyer Decision washed-up hydraulic mining in the mid 1880s, the South Yuba Water Company, and its subsidiary, the Central California Electric Company, was poised to capitalize on a new industry—hydroelectrisity.
Following Deer Creek’s Water Path
Deer Creek water begins in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, north of I-80, fifty-five miles northwest of Lake Tahoe.
French Lake–elevation 6,676 ft.
Faucherie Lake–elevation 6,135 ft.
Sawmill Lake–elevation 5,869 ft.
Bowman Lake–elevation 5,600 ft.
Fuller Lake–elevation 5,344 ft.
Canyon Creek Drainage
Bowman Spaulding Canal
Spaulding Hydro Power Plant
Spaulding Lake–elevation 5,014 ft.
Hwy 20 & Bear Valley–South Yuba Canal
Deer Creek Forebay–elevation 4,477 ft.
Deer Creek Hydro Power Plant
North and South Fork Deer Creek Confluence
Scotts Flat Lake–elevation 3,069 ft.
Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir–elevation 2,094 ft.
“There’s very little natural water in Deer Creek,” says Les Nicholson, retired Nevada Irrigation District Hydroelectric Manager.
Burlington Ridge, the apex of the North and South Fork of Deer Creek isn’t high enough to maintain a snowpack (4,160 ft elevation).
“Most Deer Creek water is imported,” Nicholson says. “Imported water means it comes from another drainage.”
In Deer Creek’s case, that drainage is the Yuba Watershed.
Nicholson generously shared his time to explain the complicated route water takes before we see it in our ditches, creeks, and rivers.
*After leaving Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir, the video tour back-tracks to Burlington Ridge, the physical headwaters of the North and South Forks of Deer Creek.
Run-off and gravity always show the direction water is flowing.
Bear Yuba Land Trust – Trails Portal
Burlington Ridge | North Fork Deer Creek
GetAwayHorsePlay.com – Skillman Horse Camping video
Gold Country Trails Council – Horse Camps & Trail Maps
Skillman Horse Campground reservations
USDA Forest Service – Skillman Campground & OHV information
Burlington Ridge | South Fork Deer Creek
Burlington Motorcycle Trail System
OHV Trails around Donner Summit
Hiking Trails & Camping
All Trails – Cascade Canal
Outside In – Snow Mountain Ditch
Nevada Irrigation District
Since 1921 the Nevada Irrigation District has supplied domestic, irrigation, and domestic water for Nevada and Placer Counties. It is an independent California special district governed by an elected board.
Nevada Irrigation District Campgrounds & Lakes
Book: PG&E of California,1851-1952, by Charles Coleman
Wikipedia – Pacific Gas and Electric Company