By Fritz Durst and Valerie Pryor, Chairs of the Board and Reservoir Committee
Earlier this month, the Sites Project Authority celebrated the approval of the project and certification of the Final Environmental Impact Report and Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIR) for the Sites Reservoir Project, a multi-benefit, off-stream water storage facility, located north of Sacramento in rural Colusa and Glenn counties.
Over the last six years, we have worked with our participants, government partners, and other stakeholders from across California to configure an off stream reservoir that will benefit all of California. We completed an extensive environmental analysis – one of the most comprehensive ever done for a water supply project – that critically analyzed potential impacts Sites Reservoir would have on the environment and surrounding communities during construction and operation of the reservoir. It also incorporated input from the local community, tribes with traditional or cultural affiliation with the Project area, and non-governmental organizations.
Today, we have a better project because of this process and a project that is affordable, permittable and buildable.
With a capacity of 1.5 million acre-feet, Sites Reservoir is key to increasing California’s water resiliency and security, especially in the face of climate change. It would capture and store water from the Sacramento River during high flows—after all other water rights and regulatory requirements are met—without the need to dam any major rivers.
Sites Reservoir is also a rain fed flexible storage solution, designed to adapt to future climate conditions, which are predicted to bring California more extreme storms that generate heavy rainfall. Currently, we don’t have sufficient existing infrastructure to capture and store runoff from these storms, but Sites Reservoir is specifically designed to capture this rain and store it for future use. While our current water management system was not designed to accommodate this future climate reality, modeling shows Sites performs even better under these future changed conditions which is another reason we need to get this project built.
The project will produce significant, tangible, and secured environmental benefits. Sites Reservoir will be the first and only reservoir in California that captures and stores dedicated water specifically for the environment. Approximately 240,000 acre-feet of storage space will be set aside for the state to replenish water in wildlife habitats and ecosystems when and where it’s needed. It marks a big shift to prioritizing the environment in our water management, which studies show California will need to implement as droughts and the effect of climate change intensify.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the steadfast support of our participants and partners. To advance this important project, cities, counties, and irrigation districts from the Sacramento Valley to urban areas of Southern California have come together to accomplish a shared mission of increasing California’s water supply resiliency while protecting and enhancing California’s environment. This broad and diverse support is a testament to the virtues of Sites Reservoir and the benefits it will afford to the millions of people, thousands of acres of farmland, and environments they serve.
Sites Reservoir is closer than ever to becoming a reality. With the environmental processes nearing completion, it is a significant step toward construction and operation. We look forward to moving this project forward and delivering a more reliable water supply for all of California.