Bear/North Complex Fire Impacts Oroville
Firefighters are gaining traction against Butte County’s Bear Fire, called “North Complex – West Zone Fire”. Severely damaging communities around Lake Oroville, including several Lake Oroville State Recreation Area (LOSRA) facilities, the fire is now 73 percent contained with over 84,000 acres burned as of Friday, Sept. 25.
Locations along the North Fork of Lake Oroville, as well as areas on the South Fork remain active fire zones. The Bidwell Canyon Marina and Lime Saddle Marina have not sustained damage and there are currently no risks to Oroville Dam or its related structures. Due to continuing fire behavior, many LOSRA facilities are currently closed. (See more recreation information below.)
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) continues to monitor the fire’s status and is actively working with CALFIRE, local law enforcement partners, and California State Parks (CA Parks) staff to ensure employee and public safety. CA Parks staff are providing support to firefighters by boat from Lake Oroville, and a camp for fire support has been established at the Loafer Creek recreation area – which is still closed to the public. DWR’s water delivery and other critical operations are ongoing with essential staff on site.
Oroville Recreation Closures Update
Due to fire impacts and continued danger to the public from the North Complex – West Zone fire, many Lake Oroville State Recreation Area (LOSRA) facilities remain closed, including boat launches, day use areas, and trails. The Bidwell Canyon and Lime Saddle marinas are open only for houseboat owners who may access their houseboats with proof of ownership. No overnight houseboat stays or boating is allowed on Lake Oroville. Current status of openings and closings can be found on the CA Parks LOSRA webpage.
Oroville Dam Crest Road across the top of Oroville Dam is open to bicyclists and pedestrians. Although the Spillway Boat Ramp and Day Use Area are currently closed, the newly opened Brad Freeman Trail down to the Thermalito Diversion Pool may be accessed from the new gravel parking lot at the north side of the Spillway Day Use Area. The Diversion Pool is now open to non-motorized watercraft. All other trails around Lake Oroville are currently closed. The Dan Beebe Trail on the south side of the Diversion Pool; the North and South Forebay Recreation Areas; and the Clay Pit State Vehicular Recreation Area are all open. The Forebay Aquatic Center at the North Forebay is temporarily closed but has scheduled kayak floats to view salmon spawning in the Feather River (see information below).
The Oroville Wildlife Area, including the Thermalito Afterbay, remains open from 1.5 hours before sunrise to one hour after sunset. Current recreation facility information can be found on DWR’s Lake Oroville Recreation webpage, CA Parks LOSRA webpage, and the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife webpage. See below for information about the Feather River Fish Hatchery.
Chinook Salmon Return to the Feather River
Chinook salmon are completing their life cycle and returning home to the Feather River to lay eggs for the next generation of salmon. The Feather River Fish Hatchery opened the fish ladder on Sept. 14 to begin hatchery spawning operations which enables millions of Chinook salmon to be released to the river every spring. To protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hatchery will not be open for tours this year. Visitors can still enjoy seeing salmon climb the fish ladder at the Viewing Area near the Feather River’s Fish Diversion Dam north of the Hatchery. The public is urged to maintain physical distancing and abide by requirements for mask-wearing to protect personal health and the health of others.
Oroville’s annual Salmon Festival has been scaled down with only a few activities scheduled, including kayak ‘floats’ organized by the Forebay Aquatic Center to watch salmon in the Feather River Sept. 26 and Sept. 27. Information about the Festival, and a link to sign up for the Forebay Aquatic Center’s kayak ‘floats’, can be found on the Oroville Area Chamber of Commerce website.
Learn all about Salmon – DWR’s Water Wednesdays
The Feather River Fish Hatchery is closed, but you can still learn about salmon through DWR’s Water Wednesdays program on DWR’s YouTube channel. These family-friendly programs are designed for kids 10 to 14 but are appropriate for anyone who would like to learn more about California’s water resources. The recent five-part series took a look at the lifecycle of the Chinook salmon that spawn in the Feather River, travel downriver, through the Delta, and finally to the ocean. The episodes are live, allowing participants who have signed up on Zoom to ask real time questions of the speaker.
Visit the DWR Events webpage at https://water.ca.gov/News/Events to join or register for next Wednesday’s chat which starts a series on flood preparedness. Information will also be posted on DWR’s social media pages at @CA_DWR (Twitter) and @CADWR (Facebook). Water Wednesdays began in May 2020 and previous episodes are available on DWR’s YouTube channel – enter Water Wednesdays in the search bar.
Bidwell Canyon Boat Ramp Improvement Project
The Bidwell Canyon Boat Ramp Stage Two Improvement Project temporarily halted due to the North Complex – West Zone fire, is back underway, and will continue as long as air quality and lake levels allow. Kelly Ridge and Arroyo Drive residents can expect to see large construction equipment, as well as rock and concrete deliveries, in the area from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays as the contractor works to complete the project by mid-November.
As lake levels decrease, this construction continues a project that started in Fall 2018 to expand the Stage Two parking area and provide two additional Stage Two boat ramp lanes to 700 feet. In February of 2019, construction was halted due to rising lake levels, but not before completion of a new lower-level, concrete parking lot, expansion of Bidwell Canyon’s mid-level boat launch from three to five lanes, and the addition of two boarding float lanes. Construction also improved the vertical curve at the top of the boat ramp to accommodate larger trailers.
Current Lake Operations
The elevation of Oroville’s reservoir is about 747 feet and storage is about 1.65 million acre-feet. Daily average inflows to the lake have ranged between 1,560 cfs (cubic feet per second) to 2,898 over the past week. Temperatures will increase to the low 100s this weekend and early next week but are forecasted to drop to the mid- to upper-90s in the middle of the week. The Northern Sierra Basin rainfall totals remains below average for the year, at 62 percent of normal.
The total releases to Feather River continue at 2,600 cfs to meet downstream Bay-Delta water quality and flow standards. The Feather River flows consist of 800 cfs through the Low Flow Channel adjacent to the City of Oroville, and 1,800 cfs from the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet for a total of 2,600 cfs for the Feather River’s high flow channel downstream of the Outlet.
All data as of midnight 9/25/2020