California's Rivers & Streams -- The Yuba River
by Ginnie Bottorff
The South Yuba River originates in the Northern Sierra Nevada just north of Rt. 80 which crosses the Sierras west of Truckee. The Middle and North Forks enter the South Yuba just north of Harry Englebright Lake. The Yuba then flows westward and joins the Feather River near the city of Marysville. The Yuba watershed is one of great variety stretching thousands of miles from the peaks of the Sierra to the floodplains near Yuba City.
The South Yuba is of particular interest, as 39 miles was designated Wild & Scenic between Spaulding and Englebright Lakes in 1999. It has been looked after and protected by South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) since 1983. SYRCL is a "community-based, educational, nonprofit corporation committed to the protection, preservation and restoration of the entire Yuba Watershed." Its 4,000 members and 400 active volunteers are river lovers, and business and private property owners.
What makes the Yuba River unique?
It is home to some of California's strongest remaining runs of Chinook salmon and steelhead trout listed under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.
One of the most ambitious river restoration programs in the entire United States was begun here in early 2001, to determine if it is feasible to reintroduce the Chinook and steelhead.
This river hosts the 4th highest number of dams of any watershed in the state.
44 threatened, endangered or "Species of Special Concern" are found in the Lower and Upper Yuba watersheds.
The Yuba has the highest intrusion of roads in steep canyons of any watershed in the Sierra Nevadas. It has more than 1270 stream crossings and 600 miles of near stream roads.
Two of the major issues for SYRCL are mercury and arsenic contamination in the watershed. Mercury was used to remove gold through amalgamation in hydraulic mining during the time of the Gold Rush. It has a legacy of eroding hillsides and causing excess sediment. Arsenic is the primary contaminent from the Lava Cap Mine. The dust-like tailings can become airborne in deposition areas and can cause health problems if the tailings are inhaled over a period of time.
Of particular interest to SYRCL are Englebright Dam and Daguerre Point Dam, both major stumbling blocks to reintroducing the salmon and trout. Englebright Dam is 261 feet high. It has no fish ladders and completely blocks all fish passage to potential spawning grounds in the upper watershed. Twelve miles below it is 30'-high Daguerre Point Dam. It does have fish ladders--inadequate ones--but the fish are harmed more by polluted run-off and a dam that is entirely filled with sediment.
The Yuba River is a recreationist's paradise and, thanks to SYRCL, can look to a healthy future for its watershed, fish and wildlife, and safe water for fishing, swiming and drinking.
For more detailed information, see SYRCL's website at www.syrcl.org.