Agency History

The Tricky Yuba Documentary

Yuba Water Agency's history is a story of courage, commitment and perseverance, overcoming incredible devastation. Released in May 2022, Yuba Water’s documentary, "The Tricky Yuba," explores the agency's history – how and why it came to be – what's been accomplished in the last 60+ years and the bright future that's in the works for Yuba County. Watch the complete film above and on YouTube. Are you interested in hosting a screening of "The Tricky Yuba?" Let us know.

Yuba Water's History

Yuba Water was established in 1959 to reduce flood risk and provide a sustainable water supply for the people of Yuba County. Yuba County has historically endured devastating floods, due in part to Gold Rush-era hydraulic mining practices that washed millions of cubic yards of debris into the Yuba River, raising the riverbed and increasing the flood risk.

As gold mining gave way to farming and ranching, water users south of the Yuba River overdrafted the aquifer, causing dramatic declines in groundwater levels. To resolve these problems, Yuba Water Agency proposed the Yuba River Development Project, a multipurpose flood control, water and power project that was approved in 1961. In 1966, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a license for the project, and Yuba Water Agency completed construction in 1970.

Construction of New Bullards Bar Dam

The construction of New Bullards Bar, the fifth tallest dam in the United States, in 1970 was an essential step in the long-term and continuing effort to address flood risk in the region. This state-of-the-art facility is capable of storing approximately one million acre-feet of water and is managed to contain a minimum of 170,000 acre-feet of flood flows at any time. Watch the videos below to see construction of New Bullards Bar and to learn more about the dam and reservoir.

The Original Bullards Bar Dam

This historic footage from the 1930s, courtesy of the Mathews Family, shows clips of the original Bullards Bar Dam and surrounding area. Completed in 1924, the original Bullards Bar Dam is still fully submerged upstream of the current, 645-foot-tall New Bullards Bar Dam. 

Major Yuba Water Agency Milestones

  • 1959: Yuba County Water Agency Act is signed, creating what is known today as Yuba Water Agency
  • 1961: Yuba County voters approve by an 11-1 margin, $185 million in revenue bonds (three times the total county assessment at the time) to build the Yuba River Development Project, which includes New Bullards Bar Dam, Our House and Log Cabin diversion dams and several powerhouses
  • 1966: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues license for Yuba River Development Project
  • 1970: Yuba River Development Project construction is completed 
  • 1986: The State of California, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Yuba Water initiate discussions to reduce flood risk and improve public safety through the Yuba River Basin Project after flooding from the Feather and Yuba rivers devastate Linda and Olivehurst, claim two lives and result in more than $464 million in damages
  • 1988: Yuba Water formally requests a Corps reconnaissance study and assumes role as local cost-share partner for a feasibility study, a critical step to secure formal federal backing of the Yuba River Basin Project
  • 1997: A levee break leads to major flooding on New Year's Day in Arboga (now Plumas Lake) and Linda, claiming three lives and causes more than $300 million in damage
  • 1998: Corps approves nearly $28 million in project funding to bring 200-year levels* of urban flood protection to Yuba County
  • 1999: Congress formally authorizes the Yuba River Basin Project, which will strengthen levees and reduce flood risk throughout the region
  • 2000: California voters pass the Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, Watershed Protection, and Flood Protection Act of 2000 (Proposition 13) creating the Yuba Feather Flood Protection Program and providing nearly $90 million for levee improvements in Reclamation District 784 in Yuba County
  • 2004: Yuba County and RD 784 form TRLIA joint powers authority to finance and construct levee improvements in south Yuba County
  • 2005: Bear River setback levee is completed, improving two miles of levee and adding 500 acres of floodplain habitat along the Bear River
  • 2006: California voters approve the Disaster Preparedness and Flood Protection Bond Act of 2006 (Proposition 1E) providing $4.5 billion in levee improvements and flood risk reduction measures, $200 million of which is partially allocated to Yuba County
  • 2007: Congress reauthorizes the Yuba River Basin Project, increasing allocations from $27 million to $107.7 million
  • 2010: Award-winning Feather River Setback Levee is completed, building six miles of new levee where the levee broke in 1997 and restoring 1,500 acres of floodplain habitat, substantially reducing flood risk for Arboga, Linda, Olivehurst and Plumas Lake at a cost of $160 million
  • 2010: Upgrades to 7.6 miles of the Marysville Ring Levee begin to reduce flood risk to a population of more than 12,700 people and more than 3,700 structures, including the region’s largest hospital, Rideout Memorial, which provides the only level-3 trauma services to more than 100,000 people throughout the Yuba-Sutter area
  • 2012: Yuba Goldfields levee improvements are completed, bringing a 100-year level of flood protection southern Yuba County
  • 2016: Yuba Water’s power purchase agreement contract with PG&E expires and the agency assumes responsibility for all expenses related to the Yuba River Development Project, as well as revenue generated from power sales
  • 2019: Yuba Water's board votes to transfer annual property tax revenue back to Yuba County
  • 2020: Yuba Water formalizes its Community Impact Grant and Loan Program to govern the application, review and approval of grants and low-interest loans by Yuba Water to public agencies and non-profit entities consistent with the Yuba County Water Agency Act 
  • 2022: Completion of the Goldfields 200 year project brings a 200-year level of flood protection to the communities of Linda, Arboga, Olivehurst and Plumas Lake
  • 2022: The Bear River Setback Levee is completed, significantly reducing flood risk along the Bear River near the City of Wheatland

*A 200-year level of flood protection means there is less than a 1-in-200 (half of a percent) chance in any given year that a storm more powerful than the system is designed to handle will come along. Levels of protection are used to determine flood insurance premiums, land use and whether building permits can be issued in certain areas.