SITES, Calif. — In 2014, during a severecomplex water storage system like never before, voters told the state to borrow $7.5 billion and use part of it to build projects to stockpile more water. Seven , that drought has come and gone, replaced by an even hotter and drier one draining the state’s reservoirs at an alarming rate. But none of the more than half-dozen scheduled to receive that money have been built.
The largest project is a proposed lake in United States has put the project in the spotlight. It’s slated to get $836 million in taxpayer money to help cover its $3.9 billion price tag if project officials meet a deadline by year’s end. The recently committed $80 million to the Reservoir, the largest appropriation of any water storage scheduled to receive funding next year., the state’s first new Reservoir of significant size in more than 40 years. People have talked about building the Sites Reservoir since the 1950s. But the cost, plus shifting political priorities, stopped it from happening. A significant drought gripping the western
And the project could get some of the $1.15 billion included in anpassed by the U.S. Senate. Still, the delay has frustrated some lawmakers, who view it as a wasted opportunity now that the state is preparing to in the Central Valley because of a shortage. “The longer you don’t build, the more expensive it gets,” said Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle, whose rural Northern California district includes farmers.
Storage was once the centerpiece of California’s water management strategy, highlighted by a building bonanza in the mid-20th century of several dams and reservoirs. But in the more than 40California last opened a significant new pool, the politics and policy have shifted toward aan environmental focus that has caused tension between urban and rural legislators and the communities they represent.
The voter-approved bond in 2014 was supposed to jump-start several long-delayed storage projects. But some experts say the delays aren’t surprising, given the complexities and environmental hazards of building new water projects. “We have about 1,500 . If you assume people are smart — which they ks most of the time — they will have built reservoirs at the 1,500 best reservoir sites already,” said Jay Lund, co-director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California-Davis. “What you have leftover is more expensive sites that give you less water.”
California’s Mediterranean climate means it gets most of its rain and snow in the winter and spring, followed by hot, dryrivers and streams dry up. TThe state and federal governments operate the largest of California’s reservoirs However, neither has built a new one since the 1979 New Melones Sonora, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Yosemite National Park. That could change with the Sites Reservoir project, which would flood what’s left of the town of Sites, located in a valley coast range mountains.
The town’s roots go back to the 1850s, when John Sites, a German immigrant, settled there. At its peak in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was known for a sandstone quarry that provided building materials throughout the state, including the iconic Ferry Building in. But wthe town slowly dwindled hen the quarry War I; Fire destroyed many buildings, leaving about 1tenhouses on unirrigated land that could only be used for agriculture during the . Officials would have to buy those properties from residents to build the Reservoir eventually. With only two ways in and out of the valley, it’s an ideal spot to .
But unlike most California reservoirs, Sites would not be connected to a river or stream. Instead, operators would have to pump water from the Sacramento River whenever it has extra to give. The idea is to take advantage of wet years like 2018 when California got so much rain and snow in the mountains that reservoirs were filled beyond capacity. “We’re redefining how water is , executive director of the Sites Project Authority, who has no relation to the former governor of the same name.
Pumping the water is expensive, which, along with concern from environmental groups, is one reason the Reservoir has been say operators would have to pull way more water than is environmentally safe from the Sacramento River to make the project feasible.but never built. Many environmental groups argue the Reservoir would do more harm than good because they
“Fundamentally, it is a deadbeat dam, a pretty marginal project, or else it would have been built years ago,” said Ron Stork, a senior policy advocate for Friends of the River, an environmental advocacy group. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration, which included the Sites Reservoir in its water plan, sees it as a way to prepare for a future impacted by. California’s reservoir system is to capture water from melted snow in the mountains. But climate change could mean less snow and more rain, which the state is not as equipped to capture.
“We are going to start swinging to more extremes, (a) dry, deep drought or big flood,” said Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources. “I think there is some value to those kinds of projects.” It will cost $3.9 billion to build the Sites Reservoir, and that’s after project leaders made it smaller to shave about $1 billion off the. Most of the money will come from customers who buy water, the , and bank loans. California taxpayers have pledged about $836 million to the project from bond voters approved in 2014. But to use that money, project leaders must meet a deadline by the to show the idea is feasible. “I’m confident,” Brown said. “It’s going to be close, but it’s going to make it.” ——— Follow AP’s complete drought coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/droughts.