Skip to main content

Origins of the South Feather Power Project (SFPP)

During the early years of the twentieth century, developing transportation and irrigation were prominent endeavors in Butte County. Irrigation in particular, and later hydroelectric production, allowed for agriculture to develop and population to grow in the region. In 1907, T. F. Hornung embarked on studies involving the Middle Fork Feather River as a source for power development. In an effort to develop and increase water delivery on the South Fork, Hornung and several investors formed the South Feather Land and Water Company. By 1918, the organization improved water distribution in the region by providing water to roughly 2,100 acres of agricultural land, much of it used to grow olives, citrus fruit, and deciduous fruits. The Oroville Wyandotte Irrigation District (OWID) formed one year later as an irrigation district under the California Water Code and in 1923 assumed control of the South Feather Land and Water Company’s water distribution system (including Forbestown Ditch) in addition to holdings in the Palermo Land and Water Company (Palermo Ditch) also located in Butte County. When the OWID was formed, 800 people lived in the district and 2,000 others benefited from the irrigation and received their domestic water from the project. Shortly after the OWID was established, it initiated plans for $2 million in improvements to water distribution systems and structures throughout the region, including the construction of Lost Creek Dam.

The results of the first investigative analysis into “Utilization of the Water Resources of the South Feather River Watershed for Irrigation and Power Development” was presented to the OWID Board of Directors in 1926. Less than a decade after formation, OWID was already seeking ways to relieve increasing costs to the landowners within the District, and maintain solvency. The engineer that had supervised construction of both Lake Wyandotte and Lost Creek dams, and repair and new construction throughout the acquired ditch system, was employed by the District to survey lands throughout the watershed to design what would become the South Fork Power Project. On November 13, 1925 the District filed an application to maximize water rights in place for irrigation for the development of electric power. On November 14, 1925 the District filed an application with the Federal Power Commission (now the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission/FERC) to obtain a license to utilize lands in connection with the proposed development of electric power. In December 1958, District voters approved the issuance of $62,000,000.00 of revenue bonds for the construction of the SFPP.

The South Feather Power Project (originally South Fork Power Project) covers nearly 82 square miles in Butte, Yuba and Plumas Counties, and 45 river miles, and drains 217 square miles of tributary watershed. The Project occupies just over 1,977 acres of federal land administered by Plumas National Forest, and 10.57 acres of federal land administered by the US Bureau of Land Management. The Project consists of four developments (Sly, Woodleaf, Forbestown, Kelly) that include eight dams, 17 miles of tunnel (3.5 miles of which is concrete lined), four single-unit powerhouses, over 12,000 feet of steel penstocks, and 21 miles of canal. Each of SFWPA’s four powerhouses comprise a single vertical turbine and generator. Water that is stored at higher elevations is conveyed by gravity through turbine blades causing them to spin. The rotational force is applied to the generator which then produces electric power.  Hydro-electric power is fueled by water and is a clean, renewable, carbon-free energy source.

Join our mailing list