Click Here to Print This Story!   Click Here to get a PDF Copy of this Story!   

Sunday, December 06, 1981

Rivers In Our Area

Ernest D. Wichels

Perhaps the greatest concern in these days of growing population and increasing agricultural needs, energy requirements, and environmentalist philosophy is the supply of water.

Water was at one time a crisis situation for Vallejo. In 1918, for example, the World War I expansion of Mare island Navy Yard outdistanced our water supply and the Navy had to dig wells in Green Valley (on the present Country Club golf course), at Rockville’ corners, and along Suisun Creek.  During a drought in 1924, and while awaiting completion of the Lake Curry reservoir in upper Solano, the local City Council forbade the watering of lawns, washing of automobiles, etc.

Today thanks to Lakes Frey and Madigan in Wild Horse Valley, Lake Curry, Lake Berryessa and the Cache Slough diversion, Vallejo and Mare Island have adequate water supply. Napa City has had its crises too; so has St. Helena and, in the recent past, Calistoga has worried about its water supply.  For all of this domestic and agricultural supply locally and the hydroelectric needs statewide we look to the streams of California.

At one time many communities depended on wells. It is difficult to realize today that Napa’s entire water supply at one time came from wells as did some Solano communities.

Napa River in our own youth was a bountiful stream year-round we remember the deep swimming pools throughout the summer. But today with reservoirs on Sulphur Springs Creek in St. Helena, Calistoga dams, Conn Valley (Lake Hennessey), Rector Canyon (for the state hospital ), Millikin Dam, etc., the water is gone and so are the good ol’ swimmin’ holes.  California is blessed with many riversÂ? thanks to the incomparable Sierra Nevada range rising to heights of 14,000 feet, the Coast range up to 8,000 feet, the Cascades in the north, and the Sierra Madre in the south.  In the excellent publication by Pacific Gas and Electric in 1962 edited by Lawrence R. McDonnell, the description and classification of California rivers is beautifully told.

Listed are 84 rivers the remainder, presumably, are simply creeks.  We are not certain where the dividing line exists. It has always puzzled us why Napa is a river and Petaluma is a creek, and 50-mile Putah is a creek while Napa with the same distance is a river.  Also. while the PG&E story lists 84 named rivers, several have tributaries large enough in our opinion to be classified as rivers in themselves. Take for example, the north and south forks of the large American River, or the west and east forks of the Carson the large and beautiful stream that flows from the Sierra into Nevada.

There are two major rivers in our state. Eight major streams and 15 minor ones feed the 350-mile San Joaquin river.  Almost one-third of the annual runoff of all California streams is concentrated in the 400-mile long Sacramento, including the McCloud, Pit, Feather, Uba, Bear and American.

Most of our readers are motorists and therefore aware of the treasures in rivers on our own North Coast. We will begin of course, with the large Russian River for long a favorite with local picnickers and canoeists - then the Gualala, Garcia, Noyo, Navarro, Big, Mattole (in Humbolt County, and the end of the San Andreas).