Sitting deep in the wilderness of the Plumas National Forest is Lower Bucks Lake, a popular destination for campers and fishermen in Northern California. The lake sits next to Bucks Lake and is surrounded by the Bucks Lake Wilderness about 32 miles east of Oroville, California.
It’s a great place to enjoy the great outdoors, although this summer it will be drained by PG&E to upgrade the Lower Bucks Lake Dam by attaching a waterproof membrane to extend the dam’s service life.
Lower Bucks Lake is immediately downstream of the much larger Bucks Lake, which will remain at or above seasonal levels during the project and fully available for recreation and camping. PG&E will redirect water from the outlet at the Bucks Lake Dam by temporary pipe around Lower Bucks Lake to empty into the creek below Lower Bucks Dam to meet instream flow requirements.
This project makes sense on a lot of levels, but leaves a grim situation for the fish in the lake.
PG&E consulted with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on the matter of the lake’s fish and concluded a fish rescue was not a viable option. With the steep terrain and limited access of the lake, officials deemed it was too dangerous. So what happens when you drain a lake full of fish?
CDFW and PG&E instead will focus efforts on providing additional fishing opportunities at Bucks Lake during the dam repair work, including doubling the number of catchable-sized rainbow trout stocked. This is in addition to the normal number of brown trout and brook trout planted as well as rebuilding the Lower Bucks Lake fishery through aggressive stocking following the work.
According to PG&E, Lower Bucks Lake is now closed to public access through the end of the project in November. The closure is due to the steep terrain of the lake, which creates a dangerous situation with the heavy equipment being used for the project. The same terrain is the reason a fish rescue was not conducted, and the lake has not been stocked with fish for years in anticipation of the draining.
The draining of the lake will mean a die-off of the fish at Lower Bucks Lake. Hopefully the efforts from the CDFW will help replenish the lake’s fish populations in the future. But today, the lake will be drained with no one from the public around to watch the fish die.