Conflict on Butte Creek

After listening to a litany of complaints from Butte Canyon residents at their meeting last week (July 25), Butte County supervisors voted unanimously to prepare an ordinance banning booze on Butte Creek. It’s not a bad idea, but passing the ordinance is the easy part. Enforcing it will be more difficult. And it won’t solve the underlying problem.

The county already has ordinances prohibiting littering and glass containers on the creek, and of course it is illegal to urinate or defecate along the creek—problems residents say are common during summer months, when thousands of people flock to the canyon to tube or raft. These ordinances are largely unenforced, for a couple of reasons.

One, there is no way for sheriff’s deputies to monitor what happens on the creek except in a few places, particularly at the Centerville and Honey Run bridges. The creek flows too far from the road to be patrolled elsewhere.

Second, the sheriff doesn’t have the resources to do the job. Deputies are stretched thin looking for real criminals, and patrolling the party scene on Butte Creek is not a high priority, nor should it be.

Ultimately, the problem is the result of the county’s failure to deal with a situation that has been evident for at least 30 years. As Chico has grown, more and more people have discovered Butte Creek and used it for recreation, but nothing has been done to accommodate them. On the four-mile stretch between the Centerville and Honey Run bridges, a trip that can take several hours depending on water-flow speed, there are no restroom facilities, no water fountains, no organized put-in or put-out beaches—nothing.

As a result, canyon residents have had to deal with the problems—drunkenness, injuries, litter, trespassing—resulting from the increasingly heavy use of the creek.

Banning alcohol may help some, especially if at least a token effort is made to enforce it. But in the long term, the county is going to have to take the situation seriously and come up with a plan for the creek that accommodates tubers while allowing canyon residents to enjoy their homes.