MAXWELL, Calif. — Backers of the proposed Sites Reservoir west of here believe they have plenty of momentum going into next year’s application period for Proposition 1 water bond funds.
The number of agencies signed on to participate in the project has grown from 14 to 34, including from the San Francisco Bay area and San Joaquin Valley, said Jim Watson, general manager of the Sites Authority.
And the Legislature recently passed Assembly Bill 2553, a bipartisan measure that will give flexibility in construction methods to help speed the project.
“With what we’ve put together now, we are on track to making the Sites Reservoir a reality,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, who authored the bill.
The $3.6 billion Sites Reservoir project is one of several around the state that have been identified for potential funding under Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond approved by voters in 2014. The bond sets aside $2.7 billion for large storage projects.
The California Water Commission is set to take applications from projects in the first half of 2017, determine the eligibility of projects late next year and determine funding in the spring of 2018, according to the agency’s website.
Language in the initiative had called for the commission to hand out money as early as this December. But an initial timeline set out by the commission called for projects to be funded as late as 2019, Watson said.
“In May, we supported the commission’s decision to accelerate the schedule, and they pulled a year off the schedule,” he said. “We believe it’s critical that these projects move forward.”
Another project expected to seek funding is the $2.5 billion Temperance Flat Reservoir near Fresno, for which the newly formed San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority has begun planning its application.
The bond tasks the water commission with funding the public-benefit portion of storage projects, which could include flood protection, ecosystem restoration, recreation or water quality benefits. Local agencies that would benefit from additional water would need to partly fund projects.
Both the Sites and Temperance Flat projects would be aided by the passage of AB 2553, which will allow several steps in construction, such as designing and building, to happen concurrently.
The bill passed 78-2 in the Assembly and 36-1 in the Senate and was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
“We don’t agree on everything,” said state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, referring to the governor. “We’re fighting over the tunnels. But we agree on this.”
Planning for Sites has had a significant head start over other projects. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the state Department of Water Resources and other agencies have been studying the workability of the planned 1.8 million acre-foot reservoir since before the CALFED Bay-Delta Program’s record of decision in 2000 listed Sites as a potential project.
A joint powers authority was formed in 2009 and has been gathering commitments from those that would benefit from the additional water supply. The Sites Authority recently opened a new office in Maxwell and launched a new information website.
The moves follow a DWR report last year that Sites could generate as much as 900,000 acre-feet of additional water storage during drought years. An acre-foot is enough water to serve a family household for a year.
Rancher Mary Wells, whose 500-acre property is in the center of the proposed reservoir in western Colusa and Glenn counties, supports the project because she understands the need for additional water storage, she said. She also farms rice and almonds near Maxwell and could benefit from the project.
“This project is different because it will have a whole different impact on the locals,” Wells said, noting that plans call for Sites to be built by local companies. She credits the authority for dealing directly with affected landowners.
Wells touts what proponents see as the project’s environmental benefits, as up to half of its stored water will be dedicated to increasing Sacramento River flows to improve water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta at certain times of the year.
“The world has changed,” she said. “California has changed. As much as farming, we deal with the environment.”