South Feather Water and Power Agency is an independent special district formed under the Irrigation Code of the State of California. It provides treated water service to the communities of Oroville, Palermo and Bangor in southeast Butte County, as well as operates the South Feather Power Project, a FERC-licensed hydropower project. It is governed by a five-member elected board of directors.
The Agency is located 70 miles north of Sacramento on the east side of California’s Sacramento Valley in the Sierra foothills of southeast Butte County.
SFWPA’s service area is wholly within Butte County’s First Supervisorial District. In addition to the County of Butte, other public agencies with territory within SFWPA’s boundaries are:
- City of Oroville;
- Oroville Union High School District;
- Oroville City Elementary School District;
- Palermo Elementary School District;
- Bangor Elementary School District;
- Oroville Mosquito Abatement District;
- Butte County Mosquito and Vector Control District;
- Lake Oroville Area Public Utility District; and,
- Feather River Recreation and Park District.
South Feather Water and Power Agency – originally named Oroville Wyandotte Irrigation District (“OWID”) – has roots extending back to the California gold rush. The ditch system utilized by the Agency today to distribute its irrigation water is a modification and expansion of the ditch network constructed by early miners who diverted water from tributaries of the Feather River to their mining claims.
In 1852, a small ditch company was organized to construct a ditch from the South Fork of the Feather River to the mining sites at Forbestown, Wyandotte, Honcut, Ophir, and Bangor. The Palermo Ditch, completed in 1856 by the Feather River and Ophir Water Company, was a major impetus to the growth of gold mining within the area occupied by the present City of Oroville where rich gold deposits were discovered in 1849.
OWID was organized on November 17, 1919, and included 16,800 acres of land. The District was formed by assuming the old water rights from the South Feather Land and Water Company and the Palermo Land and Water Company. In July 1944, OWID initiated plans to sell water for domestic use, and between 1944 and 1967, approximately 80 miles of coal-tar lined and tar paper wrapped steel pipe was installed.
The residential growth rate within the District was greatly accelerated by the housing demands associated with the construction of the Oroville Dam in the early 1960’s. The irrigation system in the northern part of the District was slowly abandoned as the domestic pipeline system was expanded to meet the growing residential demand. By 1962, OWID served approximately 4,800 acres of agricultural land, with 8,000 AF of irrigation water delivered by the District. In addition to irrigation service, the district furnished water to approximately 2,500 residences.
As a result of the concern for an adequate water supply and for a revenue source to fund the District’s expanding infrastructure, the District’s board of directors proposed the construction of the South Feather Power Project (originally named South Fork Project, FERC License No. 2088). The South Feather Power Project, covering 82 square miles in three counties, consisted of eight dams, 9 tunnels, 21 miles of canals and conduits, four hydroelectric power plants and 21 miles of road. The first three hydropower plants were completed in 1963 at a cost of $62 million, and was financed through the sale of revenue bonds secured by the projected revenues from power generation. Those bonds were defeased in 2009. A fourth powerhouse was built in the early 1980s.
The Agency’s hydropower project is located in Butte, Plumas and Yuba counties on the South Fork of the Feather River and Slate Creek, a tributary to the North Fork Yuba River, and mostly within the Plumas National Forest. The Project includes Little Grass Valley Reservoir, Sly Creek Reservoir, Lost Creek Reservoir, Ponderosa Reservoir, and Miners Ranch Reservoir, with a combined storage of 164,577 acre-feet (af).
In 1975, Congress passed the Clean Water Act that enacted sweeping changes in domestic drinking water standards. No longer would unfiltered surface water be acceptable for drinking water. Faced with a building moratorium, OWID voters passed a revenue bond in 1978 that allowed for the construction of Miners Ranch Treatment Plant.