Disputes Linger Over Damaged Canal

Nov 27, 2019

Water feeds in to a canal near Dean Road.
Credit Matt Bates / Chico Enterprise-Record

Among the Camp Fire’s destruction were parts of a historic artificial waterway. Aside from generating a small amount of electricity for Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the Miocene Canal delivered water to several key spots. The canal’s future now remains uncertain.

Running along the West Branch of the Feather River, the Miocene Canal evolved from a log flume to a small scale hydroelectric power system. It also delivered water to farmers. Seepage through its unlined bottom helped replenish the aquifer.

With the metal supports and fiberglass halfpipes left in tatters by the Camp Fire, Pacific Gas and Electric Company notified federal regulators it planned to abandon, rather than rebuild the facility due to costs.

Downstream beneficiaries — growers and a protected wetland built as mitigation for a highway project lost their water.  Officials sought solutions, most involve reactivating the remaining parts of the canal with water from Lake Oroville.

Paul Gosselin, Director of Butte County’s Water and Resource Conservation Department said ideas put forward by a panel over the summer seem to have fallen on deaf ears.  

“PG&E had not responded to us with a recommendation or any of the other recommendation that we in the Miocene Work Group came up with, which was very disconcerting. They didn’t make the last meeting we had, so we kind of, we took that and I notified them that I took that as they were really not negotiating or wanting to work in good faith.” Gosselin said.


Gosselin is expected to deliver a status report before the county Water Commission on Wednesday, he said he won’t have much to report.


In recent years, PG&E has started the process of abandoning several small scale hydro-power projects, including the nearby Centerville Flume and in Mendocino and Shasta counties. Gosselin speculated that a change in classification by state energy regulators, no longer allowing small scale hydro to be counted as renewable energy, may have played a role in the company’s decision.