Sites Reservoir not close to construction
Those who have been waiting for the construction of Sites Reservoir to solve the state's burgeoning water woes still have a while to wait.
The Bureau of Reclamation released a progress report on north-of-the-Delta storage projects that sums up the work that has been conducted to date. But the report does not advance the project along, it only provides information previously unavailable to the public, said Michelle Denning, regional planning officer for the bureau.
Since 2000, the federal government has spent about $15 million on Sites Reservoir studies. The state has spent about $50 million.
"We take a pretty measured approach because it's a huge investment that has enduring benefits and impacts," Denning said. "It's important that decisions are well-informed."
A 2007 Department of Water Resources report estimated the cost of constructing Sites Reservoir ranging from $2.3 billion to $3.2 billion, with annual operations costs between $10 million and $21 million.
Sites Reservoir is seen by many as a solution to a highly engineered state water system that has been stretched to the limit by growing population, increased demand and a shift in water-use priorities that now includes considerations for endangered aquatic life and habitat, according the report.
"The biggest challenge facing California water resources management remains making sure that the water is in the right place at the right time," the report states. "The challenge is especilly acute and consequences are exacerbated during multiple dry years."
At the dawn of 2014, the state is heading into its third consecutive dry year.
To meet the increasing water demand, the state needs more water storage. The Department of Water Resources estimated that between 2 million acre-feet and 9 million acre-feet per year of additional storage is needed between 2010 and 2050 to stop groundwater overdraft statewide. The number varies based on how much climate change is factored in the equation.
Climate change models show that a rise of 3 degrees Celsius in California would result in a loss of snow at lower elevations, reducing the snowline elevation by as much has 1,500 feet and causing a loss of up to 5 million acre feet of storage, according to the report.
Enter Sites Reservoir, which would add between 1.27 million and 1.81 million acre-feet of storage. An acre-foot of water is about 326,000 gallons.
The project was selected from four potential storage projects as the best option, due to its existing conveyance canals in the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District and Tehama-Colusa Canal, which would minimize costs and the project's environmental impact.
But project leaders don't have the funds to complete a feasibility study and environmental impact reports at the state and federal level, making any estimations for a timeline difficult, Denning said.
"I think it will be some time," Denning said. "It won't go to Congress for authorization until we have both a draft and final feasibility report and environmental documents. That's quite a bit."
Sacramento River would be used to fill Sites Reservoir
Sites Reservoir would be in north-central Colusa County and south-central Glenn County, about 10 miles west of the community of Maxwell.
Water would be diverted from the Sacramento River to fill the reservoir.
The proposed reservoir inundation area includes most of Antelope Valley and the small community of Sites. The reservoir is in the Funks Creek and Stone Corral Creek watersheds, a total of 59,700 acres.
A mean full pool elevation of 520 feet would inundate 14,000 acres and could store a maximum of 1.81 million acre feet. An alternative reservoir size of 1.27 million acre feet is also under consideration.
At 1.27 million acre feet, six saddle dams and two major dams, Sites and Golden Gate Dams, would be required.
At 1.81 million acre feet, it would require the same two major dams and nine saddle dams along the southern edge of the Hunters Creek watershed.
Diversions from the Colusa Basin Drain, the Sacramento River, Stony Creek and local tributaries would provide potential sources of water supply for the project.
Reservoir projected to aid ecosystem
The construction of Sites Reservoir could yield numerous benefits, both in water supply and ecosystem enhancements, according to a federal Bureau of Reclamation progress report.
Overall, the project would have annual benefits between $248 million and $276 million, depending on the final reservoir plan.
Increases in both water supply and quality would generate about $13 million annually for the agricultural industry.
The project would provide either 1.27 million or 1.81 million acre feet of storage, which would result in total releases ranging from 425 thousand acre feet to 488 thousand acre feet per year. An acre foot of water is about 325,000 gallons.
The project would also benefit anadromous fish and other aquatic species by improving the reliability of cold-water, carry-over storage in Shasta, Oroville, Trinity and Folsom lakes, providing more frequent releases from Shasta Dam and stabilizing flows in the lower American and Sacramento River.
The report estimated that winter-run Chinook salmon egg survival would increase between 26 percent and 33 percent. Winter-run Chinook fish production would increase 3 percent, while fall-run Chinook production would increase between 10 percent and 12 percent.
A hydropower facility on the project would generate between 169 gigawatt and 353 gigawatt-hours annually.
The project would also reduce flood damage by about 9,000 acres.
CONTACT reporter Andrew Creasey at 749-4780 and on Twitter @AD_Creasey.