Feather River Land Trust easement permanently protects Lake Almanor

Feather River Land Trust announces the permanent protection of Lake Almanor for public benefit, with a conservation easement. Pacific Gas and Electric Company will continue to own and manage Lake Almanor including its hydropower operations, leases, and recreational facilities.

The conservation easement held by FRLT permanently protects 29,057 acres of PGE-owned land at Lake Almanor — including the reservoir itself — from subdivision and detrimental land use changes — while ensuring continuation of legal public access to the reservoir and surrounding lands for recreation, including boating, swimming, fishing and hunting.

Working with PG&E and the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council, this land protection project was over two decades in the making. The  conservation easement was officially recorded  Dec. 19, 2023, at the Plumas County Recorder’s Office.

Lake Almanor is the fourth and final of several PG&E-owned reservoirs in the Feather River region to be protected with a conservation easement by FRLT. Other conserved reservoirs include Butt Valley Reservoir (Butt Lake), Bucks Lake, and Mountain Meadows Reservoir (Walker Lake). Lake Almanor is one of northern California’s most beloved gems, and its protection ensures public access, wildlife habitat, and scenic open space are preserved for current and future generations.

A conservation easement, like the one protecting Lake Almanor, is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a conservation organization or land trust. It permanently protects the conservation values of private land and limits development, subdivision, and changes to land use. As the conservation easement holder, FRLT will meet with PG&E annually about management plans and potential impacts to special resources and publicly important values. FRLT will visit and inspect the Lake Almanor property on an annual basis to ensure that the terms of the easement are being upheld.

Why conservation?
Lake Almanor’s waters and surrounding wetlands, meadows, and forests sustain vibrant communities of humans and wildlife alike. Since 2000, FRLT has worked to protect strategic private lands for the public good in the Sierra Nevada’s largest watershed. The lands and waters of Lake Almanor, and the other reservoirs FRLT has protected, define this region and are beloved for recreation, beauty, and wildlife habitat. They are also the headwaters of the California State Water Project, which provides drinking water for 27 million people downstream.

Conserving PG&E’s Lake Almanor lands with a conservation easement permanently restricts subdivision of the reservoir and Chester Meadows (restricted subdivision and no private development outside of the current leased areas) and ensures the preservation of open space.

These lands and waters are a tremendous asset to our regional economy and local communities and sustain a diversity and abundance of birds and other wildlife. The conservation easement also ensures that legal public access will be permanently allowed, alongside protection for natural resources. This includes ongoing access to PG&E owned and operated recreation facilities including campgrounds, picnic areas, and a boat launch.

Project background and context
Following the 2003 bankruptcy of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, PG&E entered into a settlement agreement known as the Land Conservation Commitment. The settlement agreement requires the permanent conservation of 140,000 acres of forests, meadows, streams, and wetlands across the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges, to be protected for their beneficial public values and for the people of California.  The “beneficial public values” being protected under this commitment are defined as:
• Protection of the natural habitat of fish, wildlife, and plants;
• Preservation of open space;
• Outdoor recreation by the general public;
• Sustainable forestry;
• Agricultural uses; and
• Historic and cultural values.

Approximately 44,000 acres of these watershed lands are within the upper North Fork Feather River Watershed. FRLT is the local conservation organization designated to hold conservation easements on these lands. Feather River Watershed lands protected by FRLT through this project include Lake Almanor, Bucks LakeMountain Meadows Reservoir, Butt Valley Reservoir, and five properties now owned and preserved by the Maidu Summit Consortium including Tásmam Koyóm (Humbug Valley).

To learn more about Feather River Land Trust’s conservation work in the Feather River Watershed, please visit our website, frlt.org/our-work/.

To learn more about the conservation of Lake Almanor, including frequently asked questions, please visit:  https://www.frlt.org/blog/lake-almanor-conservation-story/.

Frequently asked questions
What is a conservation easement and who will own the lands at Lake Almanor?
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and the land trust to permanently protect private land and limit development, subdivision, and changes to land-use. For the conservation easement at Lake Almanor, the 29,057 acres currently owned by PG&E are under a permanent conservation easement held by FRLT. The Lake Almanor lands currently owned and operated by PG&E will continue to be owned and operated by PG&E. If the property were to change ownership, the conservation easement will remain with the land forever.

What impact will the conservation easement have on water at Lake Almanor?
PG&E holds water rights to divert, store, and use water from the North Fork Feather River and its tributaries primarily for its hydroelectric projects, although some of PG&E’s water rights authorize use of water for consumptive purposes (for example, agricultural use).

Fisheries and lake levels are managed between PG&E and the State of California. The Water Resources Control Board is the state agency that oversees water rights, water quality, wastewater management and several other water-related topics. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife manages fish, wildlife, plants, and habitats for the health of their populations and for enjoyment by the public. The conservation easement will not have a direct impact on water levels or water management by PG&E.

PG&E has a contract to deliver and/or supply 145,000-acre feet of water annually for agricultural irrigation. Actual delivery occurs through the California Department of Water Resources to the Western Canal Water District from the Hamilton Branch facility, and four other facilities (Upper North Fork Feather River, Rock Creek-Cresta, Poe, and Bucks Creek), each of which contribute water to fulfill this contract. The Western Canal Water District holds the water rights to this contract and the agreement cannot be altered except by mutual consent. PG&E can use the water to generate power and has some discretion over the timing for delivery of this water but must deliver it between March 1 and October 31 of each year.

Under the terms of the conservation easement and Settlement Agreement, FRLT will not have enforcement authority over water-related issues.

Does the conservation easement have anything to do with the Thermal Curtain?
No. As a conservation organization, FRLT is concerned about any project that could impact water quality, wildlife habitat, cultural resources, and other beneficial public values at Lake Almanor. However, the conservation easement at Lake Almanor will not address water management at the Lake due to pre-existing water use agreements (see above).

Will public access to the lake and surrounding PG&E lands change?Authorized public access to PG&E lands will continue, and the conservation easement does not impose any changes to existing authorized uses. PG&E has committed to making numerous public access improvements following the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission 2105 license. Existing unauthorized access points are being documented. PG&E will work to reduce non-authorized access and uses of their lands consistent with their existing land management prescriptions.

Will the conservation easement prohibit hunting?
No. Hunting and fishing are permitted in authorized areas on the PG&E Watershed Lands, in conformance with state and federal rules, regulations, and law, including certain areas in the proposed Lake Almanor conservation easement. Hunting and fishing are specifically listed as examples of uses to be protected by the conservation easement.

Are dogs allowed on the Lake Almanor conservation easement?
Dogs are permitted in accordance with PG&E rules and regulations. The conservation easement does not change any existing permitted uses.

Will the grebes be protected?
FRLT has identified Western & Clark’s Grebe’s breeding habitat as a beneficial public value for the Lake Almanor easement. While the easement does not give FRLT the ability to regulate water levels, FRLT plans to work with PG&E to ensure this value is sustained at Lake Almanor. Specifically, it is FRLT’s position that water level management has negatively impacted nesting success of the grebes. We support ongoing monitoring and a science-based approach to guide water level management, such as that developed by Plumas Audubon, now and into the future.

I have a lease at Lake Almanor. How will this impact me?
Existing leases — including leases for resorts, boat docks, marinas, and public infrastructure — are expressly permitted under the terms of the conservation easement. FRLT has no role, right, or responsibility to monitor and/or enforce the terms of any lease agreements that are issued by PG&E.

What is the status of the FERC 2105 relicensing?
 The State Water Board issued a Final Water Quality Certification for the Upper North Fork Feather River Hydroelectric Project on July 15, 2020. It is unclear at this time when the 2105 license will be completed. FRLT is not involved in the FERC licensing process.

Have more questions?
Check out the Stewardship Council’s Land Conservation FAQs, too!