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Congressmen give Sites Reservoir a boost

Legislation would authorize feasibility study and construction and would allow project development by a non-federal partner.

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, U.S. Representatives John Garamendi (D–CA) and Doug LaMalfa (R–CA) announced a bill to authorize a feasibility study and construction of Sites Reservoir.  The bill also establishes a deadline for completion of the feasibility study and establishes a means for a non-federal partner to develop the project.

The Sacramento Valley Water Storage and Restoration Act of 2014, which has not yet been assigned a number, was developed with the Sites JPA, a regional consortium of water districts and counties advocating for the project.

The Sites Reservoir project is expected to provide 1.9 million acre-feet of storage capacity, which would provide water management flexibility and could help California prepare for droughts.  Specific benefits include water supply reliability enhancements, Delta water quality improvements, mitigation of snowpack storage losses, reduction of flood damage in the Central Valley, Sacramento River ecosystem restoration and dedicated storage that can be used for Delta emergencies and restoration actions.

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR), estimates that the project will cost $2.3 to $3.2 billion, with annual operation, maintenance and power costs running $10 to $21 million.

Friends of the River, a conservation organization focused on protecting and restoring California rivers, is critical of the project claiming that diversions from the Sacramento River would adversely impact the ecosystem; the loss of land for project could impact sensitive, threatened or endangered species and would cause the loss of cultural resources because of prehistoric sites in the reservoir footprint; the project would be a net power user (using more electricity than it generates); and that it is a boondoggle because the water would be too expensive for agricultural use, but no M&I users have committed to purchasing the water.  The organization has also voiced questioned about how firm yield from the project will be allocated between water contracts and environmental improvements, and they challenge DWR’s argument that it would improve Delta water quality because the project location naturally produces a high level of selenium and there are metals and other potential pollutants in the area.

Despite opposition to the project by the environmental community, the Sacramento Valley Water Storage and Restoration Act was lauded by the Northern California Water Association and the Sites JPA.

“We applaud the Congressmen’s bi-partisan efforts to take an important step forward in providing water security for California,” said Bryce Lundberg, Chair of Northern California Water Association. “We need new smart storage in California—the current drought has highlighted the importance and value of surface water storage during these critical times for cities and rural communities, family farms, wildlife refuges and fish in the Sacramento Valley and the Delta.”

“With California facing its most challenging drought ever, the time is right for creative new water infrastructure to provide jobs and water security,” added Fritz Durst, the Sites Project Authority Chair and a farmer and conservationist in the Valley. “Sites Reservoir will help assure nourishment and sustenance from the fields, habitats for migrating fish and the Pacific Flyway, and a special quality of life in the Sacramento Valley—while truly helping to achieve the co-equal goals in the Delta for water reliability and the environment.”

Rep. LaMalfa, who represents Butte, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou and Tehama Counties, is committed to providing area-of-origin protections and addressing the state’s long-term water needs.  He lauded House passage of  HR 3964, a House bill addressing the drought in California, two weeks ago because it would protect northern California water rights and would authorize new surface storage projects in California, including Sites Reservoir.  Likewise, he was critical of the Senate drought relief bill introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein because it fails to include similar provisions.

Rep. Garamendi, who represents Colusa, Glenn, Lake, Sacramento, Solano, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba Counties, last year developed his Water Plan for All of California, a comprehensive plan to engage all stakeholders to solve California’s water needs.  One of the major building blocks of his plan is the development of new storage, like Sites Reservoir.

Written by Marta Weismann