Drought Renews Momentum for $4 Billion Reservoir Project in California

Bipartisan political support, billions in state and federal funding, and an unrelenting drought are creating momentum for the Sites Reservoir project in California's northern Central Valley.

2 minute read

June 2, 2022, 11:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


A barren landscape surrounds a reservoir well below its capacity.

San Luis Reservoir, located in in Merced County, some 200 miles south of the planned location of the Sites Reservoir.

With the state of California facing a historic drought unlikely to fully vanish in the climate changes to come, a long-planned project to build a massive new reservoir, called the Sites Reservoir, is gaining momentum in the state along with other restrictions to reduce the amount of demand on the state’s water system.

“A long-dead proposal to flood a bucolic valley north of Sacramento and create a massive reservoir for thirsty Southern California is finding new life — and opposition — amid the effects of climate change and worsening drought,” reports Louis Sahagún for the Los Angeles Times.

“The $4-billion off-stream reservoir is intended to hold storm water from the Sacramento River and would not dam the river or block fish migration. Operating under the public-private joint powers authority, it would contain, at capacity, 1.5 million acre-feet of water and would be available to investors for consumption, sale or lease,” according to Sahagún.

The reservoir has “bipartisan support led by Gov. Gavin Newsom, $816 million from a voter-approved bond and more than $2.2 billion in loans offered by state and federal agencies,” adds Sahagún. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) also recently appropriated $20 million for project planning.

Planning for the Sites Reservoir dates to the 1950s, although the project seemed to be permanently shelved in the 1980s. More recently however, the plan to build the massive reservoir has gained steam, as the state searches for new resilience in the face of the Western megadrought

On the demand side of the equation, the state of California recently imposed new water restrictions that "require local water suppliers statewide to activate 'Level 2' of their local contingency plans to prepare for a shortage of up to 20%" starting on June 1, according to a separate article for the Los Angeles Times by Hayley Smith. MWD, for its part, also implemented unprecedented measures on June 1 to lower water use in Southern California, according to another Los Angeles Times article by Ian James.

The source article, linked below, includes details about the political controversy surrounding the Sites Reservoir, which pits agricultural interests against environmental interests. Some environmentalists warn that the project, once complete, “would facilitate development of the controversial Delta Conveyance Project, a.k.a. the Delta Tunnel,” for example.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022 in Los Angeles Times

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