California governor taps new law to streamline reservoir project
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom fast-tracked a massive reservoir project Monday using a law he signed this past summer to accelerate construction.
The Sites Reservoir Project near the town of Maxwell, about 81 miles northwest of Sacramento, is slated to hold up to 1.5 million acre-feet of water — enough for 3 million households for a year. Once complete, it’ll increase Northern California's water capacity by up to 15%.
Additionally, it’s expected to lead to ecosystem improvements, benefits to flood control and added recreational opportunities.
The Sites project already has $46.75 million in state funding. It’s eligible for a total of $875.4 million in Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 funds. The total project cost is estimated at $4 billion.
Permitting and approvals currently are set for late 2024, with construction beginning in 2025. The reservoir would start operations in 2030.
“We’re cutting red tape to build more faster,” Newsom said in a statement. “These are projects that will address our state’s biggest challenges faster, and the Sites Reservoir is fully representative of that goal — making sure Californians have access to clean drinking water and making sure we’re more resilient against future droughts.”
The project would include use of existing diversion and conveyance facilities belonging to the Tehama Colusa Canal and Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District Canal, as well as new diversion and discharge pipeline.
The new reservoir would capture and store Sacramento River water during high flows, but only once all water rights and regulatory benchmarks are met. The water would then be available for the state’s environment, communities and farms when needed most.
Future beneficiaries include 22 storage partners that represent water delivery agencies, serving over 24.5 million people, as well as over 500,000 acres of farmland. Collectively, they’re helping pay for the project.
Newsom’s action certified the Sites Reservoir Project as being eligible under Senate Bill 149 for judicial streamlining, the first time he's used the law to streamline a project like this. It requires courts to resolve California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) challenges within 270 days, when possible, once a project has passed environmental review. That’s expected to avoid months and years of court delays.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Sites Project Authority last week finalized the project’s environmental impact review and accompanying statement.
SB 149 was part of a package of bills intended to ramp up essential infrastructure projects in the state. Those projects are intended to increase the state’s water supply and ensure safe drinking water, modernize California’s transportation system and build a 100% clean-energy grid.
Streamlining bureaucratic hurdles like permitting and cutting red tape should lead officials to maximize taxpayer dollars to accelerate project timelines, while keeping proper environmental review and community feedback processes in place.
In the past, CEQA has led to lengthy project delays as challenges under that law can linger in court. The bill package streamlines the collection and assembly of documents in litigation after project approval.
The package of bills will tap into $180 billion of local, state and federal infrastructure funds over the next decade and create an estimated 400,000 jobs.
Currently, California is in good shape with its water storage, despite three years of drought.
While three of the state’s major water supply reservoirs are under their historic average, the remainder are above. Lake Shasta, with a capacity of about 4.5 million acre-feet, was at 69% of total capacity. Lake Oroville, with a total capacity of some 3.5 million acre-feet, was at 68%.
El Niño conditions are in effect, which can mean a wetter winter than normal, though it’s not a certainty.
The snowpack appears off to a good start. It snowed 3.9 inches in late October at the UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab in Soda Springs, at 6,800 feet.