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State Water Regulators Tap Possible New Reservoir

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Sacramento, ca – As California’s severe drought lingers on, water regulators have voted to advance what could be the state’s first major new water storage project in decades, but tribal and environmental groups are voicing opposition.

Proponents say it is needed to supply more water to homes and agriculture.

Opposition groups claim the new Sites Reservoir in Colusa County would accelerate the extinction of multiple species of salmon because water would have to be pumped from the nearby Sacramento River. Sites reservoir is one of seven water projects set to receive funding from a voter-approved bond in 2014. Most of that money is targeted towards expanding existing reservoirs or building water recycling programs.

Without the California Water Commission’s go-ahead, the project would not be eligible to receive about $800 million in taxpayer money, about 20% of the project’s roughly $4 billion price tag. The vote acknowledges that the project has met all of the requirements to qualify for this round of funding, but there are still many steps ahead before the project will actually receive the public monies.

Environmental and tribal groups accuse the Water Commission of acting prematurely by saying the project was feasible because state and federal environmental reviews have not been completed. They also add that the idea of supporters to only pump so-called “excess water” from the river after a big rain or storm event will still have repercussions as “every time you take it out of the system you are having an environmental impact.

California has not built a major new reservoir since 1979. Supporters estimate the reservoir would be enough to supply three million households per year when filled to capacity. In 2018, Mother Lode Assemblymember Frank Bigelow joined in criticism of the water board’s failure to approve state water storage projects, turning in over 4,000 citizen signed petitions to the commission calling for the immediate approval of funding for the reservoir, as detailed here. The Sites Reservoir Authority argues while this project will not solve the state’s water problems, doing nothing will guarantee the situation will get worse.”