The Sites Authority moves closer to realizing the water promise

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By Fritz Durst

Fritz Durst

Sites Valley, north of Sacramento, is the location of the proposed Sites Reservoir in Colusa and Glenn counties. The project is in the process of final approval, with a target to start construction in 2024.
Photo/site project manager

Preparing for drought is part of everyday life for every Californian. Water conservation and efficient water management are now and will continue to be top of mind for everyone as the drought becomes more persistent in the state. This couldn’t be more true for our state’s farmers and agriculture industry.

We are fortunate to live in a part of the country capable of producing more than one-third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts. However, the impacts of a changing climate, including less snow and extreme drought like the one we are experiencing today, and challenges related to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act are pushing farmers to fallow once productive fields and struggling financially as a $50 billion industry. continues to decline.

Over the past 20 years, Californians have raised the bar for water conservation and innovative local water supply projects, including world-class water reuse, groundwater replenishment and the implementation of new efficiency tools. However, we must do more as a state to create a truly resilient and reliable water future.

California’s current water infrastructure was not designed with current or future climatic conditions in mind. In recent years, the West Coast has experienced a series of atmospheric river events. These storms produced powerful runoff into the Sacramento River that overtook the flood control system, causing massive flooding and extensive damage throughout Northern California.

It is these periods of heavy precipitation and runoff that we need to better capture. This is where Sites Reservoir comes in.

There is no existing infrastructure in place to capture and store excess water flows from the Sacramento River when they occur. Had the sites been in place during storms since 2017, many flooding impacts could have been avoided, and the reservoir would have stored nearly 1 million acre-feet of water to help mitigate the impacts of the harsh drought. of today.

The site reservoir will be a multi-benefit, off-stream water storage facility located north of Sacramento in rural Colusa and Glenn counties. The reservoir will be used to capture and store stormwater and flood water from the Sacramento River once all other water rights and regulatory requirements have been met.

With a capacity of approximately 1.5 million acre-feet, the sites can store excess stormwater without having to dam major rivers. Extensive modeling indicated that the sites perform better and provide even greater water supply benefits for California’s farms, people and environment, even under the most challenging climate change scenarios.

The flexibility of water storage is why Sites works well for so many varied participants. Environmentally reserved water will be managed by the state through its investment in Proposition 1, the 2014 water bond approved by California voters. The water can then be used for environmental purposes when needed.

The reservoir’s storage flexibility, in concert with our existing water management systems, could also help us respond more quickly and adaptively to changing hydrological conditions and changing needs. This becomes a win-win for the environment and statewide water operations.

The Sites Project team has made considerable progress over the past few years. We achieved critical funding goals, including an invitation to apply for a $2.2 billion loan under the Water Infrastructure Funding and Innovation Act. This low-interest loan will cover half the cost of the project. This is in addition to $875 million in Proposition 1 funding and a $449 million loan from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Our goal is to begin construction in 2024, and we are closer than ever to final project approval.

The California Water Commission issued a feasibility decision in late 2021, a significant regulatory milestone. And the venues project manager and our federal partners released a revised draft environmental impact statement for public review earlier this year. We are about to finalize this process. Other regulatory and permitting processes are ongoing, including the review of the project’s water rights application.

The project is widely supported across the state. Governor Newsom, local counties where the Project is located, cities and irrigation districts in the Sacramento Valley, San Joaquin Valley, San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California have all expressed their support. Collectively, the participants in this project serve water to more than 24 million Californians and more than 500,000 acres of farmland throughout California.

In the face of crushing drought conditions, the need for Sites is more evident than ever. Even in dry California, there are times when Sacramento River flows are greater than the system can handle, presenting an unrealized opportunity to store significant amounts of water generated by stormwater and stormwater. floods.

It is not the only solution, but it is an important element. We need a comprehensive approach. Sites are the type of modern, smart water storage we need to see us through the next century.

(Fritz Durst is a Yolo County farmer and chairman of the Sites Joint Power Authority. He can be reached at [email protected])

Permission for use is granted, however, credit should be given to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this article.

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