The Yuba River Watershed
The Yuba River is one of California’s most historic and special rivers. It rises at the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, 8,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, and flows through nearly 100 miles of canyons to join the Feather River at a confluence that stands less than 70 feet above sea level. The river is made up of three tributaries including the North Yuba, Middle Yuba and South Yuba, all of which run westward on the eastern side of the Sacramento Valley.
The annual average runoff into the river is about 2.4 million acre-feet, of which approximately 12 percent is diverted from the lower Yuba River by Yuba Water Agency and local irrigation districts to provide water to farmers and ranchers who raise livestock, peaches, plums, rice and other crops.
The lower Yuba River is one of California’s signature anadromous fish streams, supporting Chinook salmon and steelhead. It is also one of the few Central Valley rivers with no salmon hatcheries. Yuba Water works with local, state and federal agencies, as well as environmental groups and tribes, to protect wild salmon and steelhead and enhance fish habitat in the lower Yuba River.
The Yuba River produced the greatest amount of gold out of any stream in the United States, but at the turn of the century, panning was no longer profitable, and silt was clogging the channel from Smartsville to Marysville. Beginning when the gold hunt flourished, settlers created farms on the fertile valley floor and began tapping the river for an even richer load of irrigation water to irrigate their fields.
However, the Yuba River is also dangerous. Since California statehood in 1850, there have been ten major floods on the river. Some of the most significant floods were in 1950, 1955, 1986 and 1997. In 1950, the Yuba River cut through its banks at Hammonton and inundated southern Yuba County, causing millions of dollars in damage.
In 1955, a series of tropical storms hit the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the river rushed over the dams at Bullards Bar and Englebright Reservoir, overflowing and flooding the valley. The 1955 Yuba River flood came within feet of flooding Marysville, killing 40 people and forcing almost 30,000 people to evacuate. This flood led the people of Yuba County to begin the drive for a water agency that could reduce the flood risk, and Yuba Water Agency was soon established.