Deer Creek Water Origins, Resource Management & Recreation

The origin of Deer Creek water begins in two places; in the 1850s and at a 6,000 ft. elevation.

1850: Water Business Birthed in the West

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.

Wooden water flume. Photo Credit: Les Nicholson

After assessing the lakes in the Yuba Watershed, water companies built systems to move water to the mines using flumes, tunnels, high-pressure pipes, siphons, and trestle bridges. Gravity and elevation worked in their favor.

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 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.

 

Photo Credit: LocoSteve

Following Deer Creek’s Water Path

“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.

Attempting to use Google Earth and Maps to delineate the watercourse from its peak is like trying to untangle spaghetti.

Nicholson generously shared his time to explain the complicated route water takes before we see it in our ditches, creeks, and rivers.

The geographical tour, in the Deer Creek Water Origins video, 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
Big Tunnel
Deer Creek Forebay–elevation 4,477 ft.
Deer Creek Hydro Power Plant
North and South Fork Deer Creek Confluence
Deer Creek
Scotts Flat Lake–elevation 3,069 ft.
Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir–elevation 2,094 ft.

*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.

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 sailors, motor boaters, and fisherman enjoy it. Flowing into Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir, canoeists and kayakers paddle across 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. Run-off and gravity always show the direction water is flowing.

 

Resources:

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.

South Yuba Canal NID video

Nevada Irrigation District Campgrounds & Lakes

PG&E

Book: PG&E of California,1851-1952, by Charles Coleman

History of PG&E

Wikipedia – Pacific Gas and Electric Company

 

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