Water & Drought

Mighty L.A. water agency wants a share of Valley’s Sites Reservoir – and is willing to pay

Sites reservoir, the pros and cons

Residents and experts discuss the ramifications of flooding the Antelope Valley with 1.8 million acre-feet of water. Gone will be the land that many families have owned for generations. Longtime resident Mary Wells paints a picture of the future.
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Residents and experts discuss the ramifications of flooding the Antelope Valley with 1.8 million acre-feet of water. Gone will be the land that many families have owned for generations. Longtime resident Mary Wells paints a picture of the future.

Southern California’s most powerful water agency is prepared to invest in Sacramento Valley’s proposed Sites Reservoir, a move that could broaden support for the $4.4 billion project but also raise alarms about a south state “water grab.”

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California would pour $1.5 million into pre-development work at Sites if Metropolitan’s board accepts a recommendation made by its executive staff Wednesday. The board plans to vote on the investment next Tuesday.

Metropolitan could increase its investment later in the project, which has the backing of Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration. That would entitle the Southern California agency to control as many as 50,000 acre-feet of storage once the reservoir gets built, according to the Metropolitan staff report. Sites, to be built at a remote location straddling the Glenn-Colusa county line, would be able to hold up to 1.8 million acre-feet.

Metropolitan’s interest “further shows the value of Sites Reservoir as a solution,” said Jim Watson, general manager of the Sites Project Joint Powers Authority.

Watson acknowledged that Metropolitan’s involvement could create backlash about Southern California siphoning more water from the Sacramento Valley. But he said Metropolitan wouldn’t get a seat on the reservoir’s governing board. By state law, the board must be made up of representatives of Sacramento Valley water agencies, he said.

The advocacy group Restore the Delta, however, said Metropolitan is simply angling to take more water from the north. “They are really coming in as an outside power to control that watershed...the Sacramento River watershed,” said the group’s director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla.

Proponents say Sites would improve water storage and the environment, making water available to improve conditions of endangered fish species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Sites would be California’s seventh largest reservoir, and the largest built in the state since New Melones opened on the Stanislaus River in 1979. It would be an “off-river” reservoir fed by an underground 14-mile pipeline from the Sacramento River.

Until now, Metropolitan has been hesitant to commit to Sites. General Manager Jeff Kightlinger, in an interview last November, said the reservoir would have little value for Metropolitan unless the state builds its controversial twin tunnels in the Delta. Metropolitan is one of the leading backers of the $15.5 billion tunnels plan, which is designed to re-engineer the troubled Delta and smooth the delivery of Northern California’s water to points south.

Metropolitan is signing on to help with planning work on Sites, including preparation of an application to the State Water Commission for funding from Proposition 1, the voter-approved water bond that has set aside $2.7 billion for reservoirs and other infrastructure. Sites backers are seeking up to $2.2 billion from in Proposition 1 money, or half the total cost.

Under Proposition 1 rules, the state would gain control of up to half of Sites’ water for environmental purposes if it subsidizes the reservoir with bond money.

Mary Wells raised a family in a mountain valley near Maxwell north of Sacramento. Find out why she supports building a reservoir that would leave her family's land deep under water.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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