Editorials

Sites Reservoir gets an important ally

This land west of Maxwell would be flooded if Californians were to build the proposed Sites Reservoir. Long a source of debate over the need for water storage in Northern California, the project has renewed momentum, thanks to a wet winter and word that Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District may invest.
This land west of Maxwell would be flooded if Californians were to build the proposed Sites Reservoir. Long a source of debate over the need for water storage in Northern California, the project has renewed momentum, thanks to a wet winter and word that Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District may invest. rpench@sacbee.com

In this year of record rainfall, billions of gallons of water are flowing to the ocean that – if only sufficient storage existed – could be stored for the drought that inevitably will return.

If ever there were an argument for construction of Sites Reservoir to the west of the Sacramento River, this winter’s rain is it. The project is poised to get welcome support from Southern California.

The Sacramento Bee’s Dale Kasler reported Thursday that the Southern California Metropolitan Water District is considering investing a modest sum, $1.5 million, to help plan for the $4.4 billion project in Glenn and Colusa counties.

If the MWD board approves the expenditure next week, the Southern California water behemoth would have a seat at the Sites planning table, along with water interests from the Sacramento River Valley and beyond.

Assuming it continues to invest and the project is built, MWD would have a claim to Sites water commensurate with its investment, somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 acre feet of the planned 1.8 million-acre-foot reservoir.

Some Delta interests reacted with alarm to the news of MWD’s offer, predictably invoking the overused term water grab. We see it as a sign of widening support for a necessary storage project, and an acknowledgment that Northern and Southern California are dependent on one another.

As we stated in 2015, Sites should be part of a broad portfolio of waste water recycling, storm water capture, desalination, conservation and environmental protection.

Sites would provide water managers with flexibility needed to ensure supplies for 40 million residents, plus all the farms and businesses that also require water. That flexibility will become more important as climate change adds to the unpredictability of California’s weather patterns.

Jim Watson, general manager of the Sites Project Joint Powers Authority, told Kasler that MWD wouldn’t get a seat on the reservoir’s governing board. By state law, Sacramento Valley water agencies must make up the board.

Initially, MWD had said its stand on Sites depended on construction of the $15.5 billion twin tunnels project, which would take water from the main channel of the Sacramento River in the Delta and transport it to the Silicon Valley, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

In an interview with an editorial board member, MWD executive director Jeff Kightlinger said the investment is worthwhile because it would give Southern California a say over Sites’ construction. But he didn’t specifically tie MWD support to completion of the tunnel project. Sites “could be a valuable tool, particularly if you have the tunnels,” he said this time.

The tunnel project’s future is uncertain at best, more so as Donald Trump’s Interior Department gets involved. The administration would face a fierce fight if it aligns itself with farming interests that adhere to the outdated notion that they should be able to gulp water at the expense of our environment.

California needs to invest in its future, as became painfully apparent when the Oroville Dam spillway crumbled in February, and a bridge in Big Sur failed.

That means we must invest in vital public works projects, whether it’s freeway repairs, better train service to the Central Valley or more water storage. If MWD’s deep pockets help pay for that effort in the form of Sites Reservoir, the rest of us should welcome it.

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