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Lake Combie is an impoundment of the Bear River flowing along the Placer and Nevada County line in northwestern California's Gold Country. Also known as Combie Lake, Van Giesen and Combie Reservoir, this private reservoir is owned by the Nevada Irrigation District (NID). Access to the sparkling water is limited to fortunate landowners and guests living in the Sierra Nevada foothills surrounding the lake shore. Away from the crowds of public lakes, Combie Lake offers a tranquil retreat for boating, canoeing, kayaking, jet skiing, swimming, fishing, or just relaxing.
Two dams on Combie Reservoir trap winter precipitation and Sierra snowmelt for use in irrigation, drinking water, hydropower and recreational use. Van Giesen Dam, also called Lake Combie Dam, was started in October, 1927 and completed in May, 1928 on the Bear River in Placer County. At a later unpublished date, Combie Dam was constructed north of Van Giesen Dam on the Bear River in Nevada County. The 85-foot Van Giesen Dam originally stored approximately 5,500 acre-feet of water fed by the Bear River and Wooley Creek in Placer County. Over the decades erosion and upstream sediment have reduced the lake's volume to approximately 3,500 feet. Dredging is used to stabilize the Lake Combie's size at 276 acres and maximum depth around 50 feet with a .3 mile width and 2.5 mile length.
Lake Combie stores water for treatment plants in the nearby communities of Lake of the Pines and Auburn. From mid-April to mid-October Combie Lake also replenishes the four lakes within the community of Lake of the Pines. Combie Reservoir drains through a canal at the north end of the lake and has two intake facilities for the hydropower plant located on the north and south side of Van Giesen Dam.
Nevada Irrigation District owns Combie Reservoir plus an additional five feet above the 1,600-foot water elevation line. Follow the rolling hills along the nine-mile shoreline and you will find five miles of shore within Nevada County and four miles of shore within Placer County. The Combie Reservoir Shoreline Management Plan states that "approximately 120 properties abut NID's property and many are zoned for low to moderate density residential housing." Around these properties you will find small communities, light industry and a number of subdivisions offering vacation homes and residential properties.
Warm summer temperatures make swimming a popular pastime among lakeside residents. Combie Lake is not one of NID's recreational lakes, so visitors will not find a designated swimming area. Swimming is allowed within 200 feet of the shore anywhere except near the Van Giesen Dam.
Power boats, fishing boats and jet skis are permitted on Lake Combie. The boating speed limit is 35 mph from sunrise to sunset and 10 mph from sunset to sunrise. The speed limit drops to 5 mph within 200 feet of the dam, beaches or swimmers. Sailboats, canoes and kayaks are found skimming the quiet water or moving among the many inlets and coves that branch off from the winding lake. From the stillness of a quiet cove bird and wildlife watchers may catch a glimpse of eagles, hawks, cranes, ducks, raccoons, deer or foxes. During hunting season it is permissible to hunt waterfowl from a boat with the provision that the boat be more than 50 yards from dwellings or buildings.
Lake Combie landscape holds mixed conifers, native grasses and shrubs, but very little vegetation grows along the lake shore. As a result, shallow water warms rapidly providing less than ideal conditions for native fish species. However, the cold water that flows in from the Bear River is known to hold black crappie, white crappie, hardhead, California roach, riffle sculpin, rainbow trout, speckled dace, Sacramento pikeminnow, Sacramento sucker, largemouth bass, channel catfish, sunfish, black bullhead, brown bullhead and golden shiner.
Development is increasing among the foothills surrounding Lake Combie. The nearby community of Meadow Vista is actually a string of small rural communities starting southeast of Combie Reservoir and continuing northeast along Interstate 80 past Lake Tahoe into Nevada. Residents of Meadow Vista have formed the Lake Combie Association which promotes the care and preservation of life on and around Combie Lake.
When residents and visitors of Combie Reservoir are ready for a variety of challenging outdoor sports, they need only drive about 10 miles south to the Auburn State Recreation Area. Covering 40 miles of land along the North and Middle forks of the American River, rafters will enjoy the challenge of Class II, III and IV whitewater runs. Additional activities include trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding through the Sierra Nevada foothills. Space is provided for off-highway motorcycle riding, and there is always swimming, boating, fishing, gold panning and camping along the rivers.
Drive approximately 10 miles south of Lake Combie on Interstate 80 and you will enter the lovely community of Auburn. Once considered the crossroads of the Mother Lode, Auburn is steeped in mining history. A walk through Old Town will take you past historic architecture; a delightful selection of antique stores, restaurants and gift shops; or a refreshing break at the soda fountain at the Auburn Drug Company in operation since 1896. If you stay through the change of seasons Auburn offers local fare at the Wild West Stampede in April and Gold Country Fair in September.
An excellent selection of vacation rentals and real estate properties are found among the developments surrounding Lake Combie. Whether you select a cottage near the lakeshore or home in communities like Meadow Vista you will find a quiet retreat designed to offer rest and recreation far from the rush of city life. Located near wild rivers, historic mining communities, and less than 80 miles to the summer recreation and winter skiing at Lake Tahoe, Combie lake is waiting for you!
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