Lake Almanor celebrates its 100th birthday

Feather Publishing

Plumas County has a rich and colorful history dating back to the gold rush. And few events impacted our region as much as the creation of Lake Almanor.

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Great Western Power Co. dam on the North Fork Feather River at what was then the southern end of Big Meadows. Although vacationers had been drawn to the area for years, the creation of Lake Almanor spawned a premier vacation destination that attracted people from all over the world.

Creating the lake was no small undertaking. A number of factors complicated the project, including its remote location. On top of that, concrete was hard to come by because of two huge construction projects taking place in the Western Hemisphere: San Francisco was rebuilding from the 1906 earthquake, and construction of the Panama Canal was underway.

Originally, plans called for a series of concrete arches to cross the river channel just as it dropped into the gorge leading to Seneca and the Feather River Canyon. Construction began in 1910, and everything was going according to plan until late summer 1912. After five of the proposed arches were completed, it was discovered that instead of the expected bedrock, they were building on an old lava flow and over a thick layer of clay that just wouldn’t support the concrete dam.

Panic set in downstream, with outcries from residents in Oroville and Marysville.

Finally, during hearings held by the state Railroad Commission, it was announced that the dam was being abandoned in favor of a hydraulic-fill dam, using gravel, sand and clay, that would be built just upstream of the concrete dam site.

That dam was completed in early June 1914, with Big Meadows already flooding from a heavy winter.

The dam held a capacity of 220,000 acre-feet of water and flashboards were installed in 1916 to increase capacity. During the dry years of the mid-1920s, a new and higher dam was added below and adjoining the original dam, which increased water storage to 880,000 acre-feet.

Today the lake attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually. In addition to its popularity, the lake represents an economic engine for the Lake Almanor Basin and Plumas County. Its shores are lined with small communities and resorts that are summer homes for thousands of people and year-round residences for thousands more.

The lake is also the headwaters of the famed stairway of power that provides hydroelectricity to the region.

On behalf of everyone at Feather Publishing, happy birthday Lake Almanor. This place wouldn’t be the same without you.

Editorials are written by members of the editorial board and should be considered the opinion of the newspaper. The board consists of the publisher, managing editor and the appropriate staff writers.

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