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Virginia Ranch Dam Project History

  • The Dam is named for Virginia Ranch, which was inundated by the lake.

  • The Lake (Collins Lake) is named for the Ag Commissioner that helped convince the landowners in the District that a new dam was a great thing, Merle Collins.

  • Construction of Virginia Ranch Dam was started in 1959 and was completed in October 1963. It filled for the first time in January 1965.

  • Construction costs totaled in excess of 3.3 million (1963).

  • The Dam is 152’ high with a crest length of 2,800’.

  • The Spillway elevation is 1,183’ above sea level.

  • Merle Collins Reservoir (Collins Lake) stores 57,000 acre feet of water and covers an area of 975 acres when full.

  • The outlet works include a 42” Howell-Bunger valve and a 3,800’ tunnel to the west of the Dam. This tunnel is used to deliver water to the landowners of Browns Valley Irrigation District.

  • French Dry Creek continues its flow south of the Dam until if flows into the Yuba River some 12 miles downstream.

  • FERC Project No. 3075, CA Inventory of Dams CA00842.


After over 40 years of trying various methods of securing the required funding Browns Valley Irrigation District was finally able to secure the necessary financing through a United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) loan to build the Virginia Ranch Dam (VRD).


On September 13, 1960 by a vote of 238 to 8, BVID voters approved the District to enter into a contract with the United States Department of Interior for a no interest loan for the construction of the VRD.


Most of the design and planning had been accomplished prior to the voters approving the contract and by spring of 1962 a contract was in place and constructed was started. Unfortunately shortly after work started there was a northern Cal Labor Union strike which prevented any further work being accomplished that summer on placing of the embankment.


A Columbus Day storm in October of 1962 brought high winds and record breaking rains. Rains fell from Oakland to Alturas, with record-setting three-day rainfall. Gage stations at the VRD site recorded 11” of rain in one day. The high water caused considerable damage to the work that had been accomplished with the false start.


Early spring 1963 seen the contractor off to a running start toward a late fall completion and that winter Collins Lake started forming behind VRD. The following spring there was sufficient water behind the dam to meet the summer irrigation demands of the BVID.


Apparently there was not a good photo record kept during the construction of the Dam. I have located some photos, some of questionable quality, and am making them available in this slide show for your enjoyment.


- by Bob Bordsen

Virginia Ranch Dam

Explaining the Loan, Property Tax, and Bonds

On September 13, 1960, BVID residents were asked to cast their vote concerning the Virginia Ranch Dam Project (VRD) and to approve or reject entering into an agreement with the US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) set forth in CONTRACT BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND BROWNS VALLEY IRRIGATION DISTRICT FOR A LOAN FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF A SMALL RECLAMATION PROJECT(USBR 1960, Title Page). Entering into the 50 year $5,000,000 loan agreement was approved by a vote of 238 to 8. Studies conducted, prior to the public vote, considered the VRD project feasible based on property tax values, available water tolls and income from generation of electricity by Yuba River water made available by the VRD project. This was essentially a zero interest loan.

On September 20, 1960 the contract was signed that remains in effect until the final payment is made on August 1, 2012. The effective date of the repayment portion of the contract was set with the official completion of the project.

Per the contract, loan proceeds were made available for construction of VRD and Reservoir (now named Collins Lake), a tunnel, new canals, a pumping plant and rehabilitation and enlargement of existing canals primarily for the purpose of delivering water for irrigation to lands within the District and incidentally for municipal water supply therein and for making water available for generation of power.(USBR 1960, 2)

Once completed the contract required BVID to care for, operate, and maintain the project works(USBR 1960, 24) during the 50 year term of the contract. It also provided that The District will cause to be levied and collected all necessary taxes and assessments and will use all of the authority and resources of the District to meet its obligations hereunder, to make in full all payments to be made pursuant to this contract on or before the date such payments become due and to meet its other obligations under this contract. The District may use funds available to it from any source and require the payment of toll charges and/or levy assessments to meet its obligations hereunder. (USBR 1960, 32) The tax rate, on value of bare land only, is set by the BVID Board of Directors every year in August. Originally BVID billed and collected the tax based on the Yuba County property tax appraisal. At a later date the Board contracted with Yuba County to collect the tax with their yearly tax statement.

In 1988 USBR advised BVID that they would be willing to accept a payoff of $850,000 for the outstanding loan balance of $2.9 million. At that time BVID sold $1,050,000 in refunding bonds to pay off the loan as well as funds to cover the cost of the bond sale. The payoff and refunding in 1988 did not provide any immediate savings to the District as the yearly bond payment was near the same as the USBR loan payment had been. The District did realize a net savings over the period of the loan of over 1.2 million by refinancing.

In 2002, to further save money by lowering the interest cost of the refunding bonds, with a remaining balance of $430,000, the bonds were paid off using proceeds from out of district water sales and a new $100,000 interest only bond. Since 2002, the only yearly debt payment has been the 5.5%25 interest owed on the $100,000 bond. Also each year $10,000 has been set aside to build a fund for paying off the present bond when it comes due in 2012. With the bond payoff BVID will lose its authority, per the 1960 vote, to tax the BVID properties.

Yes I said NO MORE BVID PROPERTY TAX after 2012. Property owners in the BVID will receive their normal Yuba County property tax statements around the first of Oct. 2012 which will include the BVID tax on land value only. The statement will have the normal required payments for Dec 2012 and April 2013. There will not be a BVID tax on the fall 2013 Yuba County tax statement.

-by Robert Bordsen

Source Document

USBR. United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation. Contract Between The United States Of America And Browns Valley Irrigation District For A Loan For The Construction Of A Small Reclamation Project. September 20, 1960. bvid-us-vrd-loan

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