Sites Reservoir considered again
When John Sites founded a western foothill community in the Antelope Valley, he probably never envisioned his homestead and those of his neighbors ever being underwater.
But a decision Tuesday by the California Water Resources Control Board could lead to an actual beginning of a reservoir that has been talked about for more than 30 years.
"We have to start sometime," said Northern California Water Chairwoman Mary Wells, who guided a group of 20 government agency representatives Wednesday on a agriculture tour of the Antelope Valley in western Colusa County.
Wells purchased the John Sites ranch in 1974.
The potential benefits of the Sites Reservoir have been long investigated, starting in the 1970s before the anti-dam revolution.
People said then, as they do now, that the valley was a perfect place to store water as it flows down from the snow-capped mountains of Northern California on a long journey to the Pacific Ocean.
"It's an engineer's delight," Wells said of the nine peaks that surround the tiny valley and could serve as the reservoir's earthen dams. "It's a natural bowl."
A state water bond that might help build the reservoir in slated for the November ballot in 2012.
The legislation in the water bond identifies multiple benefits from the project, including ecosystem restoration actions on the Sacramento River, flood control, improved water quality, recreation, enhanced water supply and emergency response.
And even time has proven to be on everyone's side, with evolved improvements in modern technology and green energy.
When the state Water Resources Control Board meets Tuesday in Sacramento, it is scheduled to act on a resolution that could lead to the release of $1.75 million in Proposition 204 funds for the environmental studies.
It's a critical step in the process to evaluate the potential implementation of the Sites Reservoir as a means of assisting in the implementation of the 2006 Bay-Delta Plan.
"California has grown and will continue to grow," said Colusa County Supervisor Kim Dolbow-Vann. "At the same time, the state has not met its water supply needs for the future. Anything we can do to get new storage online, improve operational function and improve water quality in the Delta is an absolute step in the right direction."
Water officials will decide if the project titled "North-of-the Delta Offstream Storage Investigate," will help meet Delta water quality and flow-related needs, as well as assisting in the process to meet other statewide water demands.
John Brown, a civil engineer who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, said it will.
Brown said any new reservoir could be one of the best solutions for balancing water supply with demand, especially since California anticipates a long-term average shortfall of 2 million acre-feet of water per year.
In fact, Brown said the cost of doing nothing is higher.
"California can expect to reach a population of 40 (million) to 50 million people by 2040," said Brown, a member of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board. "If we don't do anything today, we are not going to have enough water."
Brown said Southern California is already facing the loss of 200,000 to 400,000 acre-feet of water annually from the settlement of litigation between Arizona v. California and five Native American tribes along the Colorado River, and a loss of 662,000 acre-feet annually from the completion of the Central Arizona Project.
That shortage will put more demand on Northern California and farmers to use less water.
"Conservation won't be enough," he said.
Although reservoirs and dams are polarizing issues, especially over environmental impacts, Brown said earlier studies did not address the overriding concern of the damage to renewable resources: groundwater basins and the economic effect on the state, mainly agriculture, if nothing is done.
"It is this consideration that must be evaluated on specific project solutions and not just the advantages or disadvantages of a site-specific project analysis," he said. "The cost of doing nothing is the continued mining of resources from the little people, and that's not fair."
If funded, the Sites Joint Powers Authority, which includes Colusa and Glenn counties, the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority, Maxwell Irrigation District, Yolo County Flood Control District and Reclamation District 108, will complete the environmental analysis in cooperation with the Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Among the requirements is compliance with the Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010, identifying beneficiaries for the project, developing financing mechanisms and alternatives and coordinating with local and regional interests.
The cost to build the reservoir is estimated at $2.3 to $3.2 billion depending on the conveyance options.
For Wells and the five generations of families who have raised cattle in the Antelope valley, the thought of a reservoir covering the old homesteads is bittersweet.
"It's not that I want to see my land underwater, but for the sixth, seventh, eight and ninth generations, it has to be," she said.
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 458-2121 or email@example.com.