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NID acquires PG&E’s South Yuba Canal, Deer Creek facilities

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South Yuba Canal

(Nov. 9, 2023) The Nevada Irrigation District (NID) has acquired the vital infrastructure that brings its water from the mountains to customers in lower elevations.

The District has agreed to the transfer of Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E's) Deer Creek hydroelectric development, including that portion of the South Yuba Canal, Chalk Bluff Canal, Deer Creek Powerhouse, and all associated canals and facilities.

Of all the acquisition components, the preeminent infrastructure is the South Yuba Canal.

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The canal flows through the Sierra

The canal is NID’s primary water conveyance that moves water from the mountain headwaters – from the Jackson Meadows, Bowman and Spaulding area – all the way down to just-above Scotts Flat Reservoir. This canal plays a key role in not only keeping the reservoir full for popular recreational activities; it is the primary water supply conveyance for NID’s customers throughout Nevada County, including the cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City.

NID has had an agreement with PG&E to use the canal as its main conveyance delivering water to the foothills as irrigation for farms and fields and, once treated, provide drinking water to local communities.

“The South Yuba Canal is the lifeblood of Nevada County,” said NID General Manager Jennifer Hanson. “This acquisition is an important move to protect the District’s critical water delivery system from the source headwaters high in the Sierra Nevada mountains.”

The canal, built from 1854-1858 by the South Yuba Mining and Canal Company, delivered endless flows to be used downhill in hydraulic mining. The water fueled high-pressure water cannons that blasted the mountainsides and dispersed rocks weighted with gold.

The canal traverses 19 miles “of some of the most rugged terrain you are going to find in the Sierra,” according to Chip Close, NID Director of Operations. For example, the construction of a waterway path along the side of a granite mountain was completed by men hanging over ledges in slings to drill and blast for anchors.

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Deer Creek Powerhouse

PG&E purchased the water system in 1905. The Deer Creek Powerhouse, upstream from present-day Scotts Flat Reservoir, was the utility’s first-ever project. Today, the powerhouse generates 5.7 megawatts.

NID’s acquisition from PG&E includes:

  • The Deer Creek Development, including portions of South Yuba, Chalk Bluff Canal, Deer Creek Forebay Dam, and Deer Creek Powerhouse.
  • Approximately 765 acres of land subject to a conservation easement commitment to the Bear Yuba Land Trust
  • Water Rights (combined 20 cubic feet per second/ pre-1914)
  • Associated FERC license
  • Deer Creek easements (encumbering PG&E’s retained lands)

As part of the deal, NID will dedicate a 700-acre conservation easement to the Bear Yuba Land Trust to protect the transferred lands from development in the future.

PG&E has indicated the Deer Creek facilities no longer served its business plan. In November 2018, the NID Board of Directors approved a resolution authorizing the purchase of the Deer Creek facilities. Since then, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) have approved the transfer.

Not lost in the Board’s analysis for acquisition is the long-term costs associated with the facility.  As with any of NID’s aging infrastructure, this acquisition comes with ongoing capital, maintenance and operations expense. “The South Yuba Canal is vital and necessary to ensure NID continues to reliably provide water to our diverse customers into the future,” Hanson said.

Read more about the Deer Creek facilities in the new NID Infrastructure Library. Entries: South Yuba Canal, Deer Creek Powerhouse and the Cascade Canal System.

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