Putah Creek

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Coordinates: 38°32′36″N 121°41′51″W / 38.54333°N 121.69750°W / 38.54333; -121.69750
Putah Creek (Liwaito)
Putah Creek, UC Davis.jpg
Putah Creek, UC Davis Arboretum
Country United States
State California
Region Yolo, Solano, Napa, and Lake counties
Source Cobb Mountain
 - coordinates 38°48′26″N 122°43′21″W / 38.80722°N 122.72250°W / 38.80722; -122.72250 [1]
Mouth El Marcero
 - elevation 36 ft (11 m) [1]
 - coordinates 38°32′36″N 121°41′51″W / 38.54333°N 121.69750°W / 38.54333; -121.69750 [1]
Length 85 mi (137 km) [2]
Basin 638 sq mi (1,652 km2)
Discharge for near Winters, CA
 - average 477 cu ft/s (14 m3/s)
 - max 81,000 cu ft/s (2,294 m3/s)
 - min 0 cu ft/s (0 m3/s)

Putah Creek (Patwin: Liwaito[3]) is a major stream in Northern California, a tributary of the Yolo Bypass. The 85-mile-long (137 km)[2] creek has its headwaters in the Mayacamas Mountains, a part of the Coast Range. The true meaning of "Putah" in Putah Creek has been the subject of discussion and speculation.


The creek originates from springs on the east side of Cobb Mountain south of the town of Cobb in southwestern Lake County. It descends eastward to the town of Whispering Pines, where it turns southeast, parallelling State Route 175. It passes the town of Anderson Springs, where it joins Bear Canyon Creek. North of Middletown, it curves counterclockwise around Harbin Mountain, merging in close succession with Dry Creek, Helena Creek, Crazy Creek, Harbin Creek, and Big Canyon Creek. From Harbin Mountain, it flows east again, joining Bucksnort Creek, then enters Napa County at a confluence with Hunting Creek about 11 mi (18 km) east of Middletown. In Napa County, the creek flows southeast, merging with Butts Creek just before it empties into Lake Berryessa.

Downstream of Monticello Dam, on the southeastern corner of the lake, Putah Creek leaves Napa County and becomes the boundary between Yolo County and Solano County. In this section it offers excellent fishing/fly fishing opportunities year round. The stream continues East along State Route 128, meeting Pleasants Creek, McCune Creek, and Dry Creek and passing through the town of Winters to reach Interstate 505. From there it continues eastward, parallelling Putah Creek Road to Stevenson Bridge Road. A few miles east of Davis, the county line turns south, but the creek continues eastward, passing south of Davis to feed into the Yolo Bypass about a quarter mile (400 m) west of the Sacramento Deep Water Channel.

Dams and diversions[edit]

Monticello Dam, a concrete arch dam, is the only major storage dam on the creek. It forms Lake Berryessa, which has a capacity of 1,602,000 acre feet (1.976×109 m3), making it one of the largest reservoirs in the state of California. The dam and lake are part of the United States Bureau of Reclamation's Solano Project and was completed in 1957.[4] The project's purpose is to provide water for irrigation, though it also supplies municipal and industrial water to major cities in Solano County. About 32,000 acre feet (39,000,000 m3) is provided by the project annually. An 11 MW hydroelectric plant generates electricity for the Solano Irrigation District, which owns and operates the dam.

Putah Diversion Dam diverts water into Putah South Canal about 6 miles (9.7 km) downstream of Monticello Dam. The dam is a gated concrete weir structure with an earth-fill embankment wing. It creates the small Lake Solano, which has a capacity of only 750 acre feet (930,000 m3). The canal is entirely concrete-lined except for a mile (1.6 km) of pipe called the Putah South Pipeline. Most of the lands are below the level of the canal and are served by gravity. Lands above pump water straight from the canal. The canal ends at Terminal Dam, which is made from earth-fill. The dam forms a small 119 acre foot (147,000 m3) reservoir. The reservoir supplies drinking water to the city of Vallejo. Most of the canal is operated by Solano Irrigation District, but the Bureau of Reclamation operates the headworks.


The true meaning of "Putah" in Putah Creek has been the subject of discussion and speculation. It was originally called "Arroyo de los Putos" (1844) and "Puta Creek" (1845), but the "Puta" form was rejected by the United States Board on Geographic Names, likely because of the resemblance to the Spanish word puta, meaning "whore."[5] According to Erwin Gudde (1889–1969), the resemblance is "purely accidental;" the revised fourth edition of Gudde's California Place Names has the following entry:

Putah Creek [Lake, Napa, Solano Cos.]. From Lake Miwok puṭa wuwwe "grassy creek" (Callaghan; cf. Beeler 1974:141). The similarity to Spanish puta "prostitute" is purely accidental. In the records of Mission San Francisco Solano (Sonoma Mission) of 1824, the natives of the place are mentioned with various spellings from Putto to Puttato. In the baptismal records of Mission Dolores an adulto de Putü is mentioned in 1817, and the wife of Pedro Putay in 1821 (Arch. Mis. 1:94.81). In 1842 the stream was well known by its name: "I know that the Rio was called 'Putos.'...It is well-known by the name which has been given it" (J. J. Warner, land-grant case 232 ND). The name was probably fixed by William Wolfskill, who named his grant Rio de los Putos on May 24, 1842. In 1843 the name was used in the titles of three other land grants, in one of which the spelling Putas occurs. In the Statutes of the early 1850s, in the Indian Reports, and in the Pac. R.R. Reports, the spelling of the name is in complete confusion. The present version was applied to a town in 1853, was used in the Statutes of 1854, was made popular by the Bancroft maps, and finally was adopted by the USGS.[6]

"Green River"[edit]

Putah Creek is also known as the Green River due to the buildup of algae and vascular plants in the late summer. Putah Creek is the subject of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Green River" and served as a vacation spot for John Fogerty.[7][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Putah Creek
  2. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed March 10, 2011
  3. ^ Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico (1906), pt. 1, p.711
  4. ^ Jensen, Peter (August 19, 2012). "1957: The year they flooded an agrarian paradise". Napa Valley Register (Napa, CA: Lee Enterprises, Inc.). Retrieved August 22, 2012. 
  5. ^ Durham, David L. (1998). California's Geographic Names: A Gazetteer of Historic and Modern Names of the State, p. 542, at Google Books. Quill Driver Books. pp. 126, 542. ISBN 1-884995-14-4, ISBN 978-1-884995-14-9.
  6. ^ Gudde, Erwin G.; Bright, William (2004). California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names (4th rev. and enl. ed.). University of California Press. pp. 304–305. ISBN 978-0-520-24217-3. 
  7. ^ Thompson, Art. "John Fogerty Summons His Creedence-Era Spirit on Revival"
  8. ^ Greene, Andy. Q&A: John Fogerty on All-Star Duets LP, Unlikely Creedence Reunion, Rolling Stone, May 4, 2012

External links[edit]