PG&E canal breach turns Northern California creek bright orange

Butte Creek Canyon, Calif.


A breach in a PG&E-operated canal turned a Northern California creek bright orange last week. 

PG&E discovered a breach in the Butte Canal that was sending orange sediment spilling into the waters of Butte Creek on Aug. 10, PG&E spokesperson Paul Moreno told SFGATE. Upon finding the breach, the utility company opened a side spill gate upstream in order to stop water flowing to the canal. 

State and federal resource agencies were then notified after PG&E identified turbidity in the creek, Moreno said. Turbidity is a measure of particles in the water; high levels of suspended sediment cause water to become more turbid, according to the California Water Board


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“We’ve been closely monitoring the turbidity, which began to improve early Friday and continues to improve,” Moreno said. 

PG&E crews are also using sandbags to prevent any water from spilling out of the breach, and silt curtains were installed downstream to catch additional sediment, Moreno said. 

Butte Creek is a tributary of the Sacramento River that runs through much of Butte County east of Chico. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife lists it as one of only three streams in the Central Valley with a population of spring-run Chinook salmon. It runs through the ancestral lands of the Mechoopda Indian Tribe, which operates 93 acres of the Butte Creek Ecological Preserve. 

“Sediment in a stream is natural, but if sediment levels get too high, like they are currently at Butte Creek, it can be extremely dangerous for fish and other wildlife,” waterways nonprofit California Trout wrote in a Facebook post. “Sediment blocks light that allows algae to grow, harms fish gills, fills or blocks important habitats, and stops fish from seeing well enough to move around or feed.”


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A survey from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is needed to determine whether the effects of the breach have affected salmon mortality, Moreno said. 

“Even under normal conditions, there is some salmon mortality in the creek during the holding period,” Moreno said. 

Though there is still visible turbidity in the water, it’s expected to continue to clear up, Moreno added. 


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