When California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1, they specifically called for new storage to help the environment. The Sites project, a proposed off-stream reservoir north of the Delta meets this need, providing as much as 200,000 acre-feet a year of new flows for fish.
Sites is a smart and long overdue investment that the California Water Commission must seize by giving its final approval on Wednesday to as much as $1 billion in Prop. 1 money.
The project will not dam a large river or stream, will not block fish migration on the Sacramento River and is a rare opportunity to improve conditions for endangered salmon and Delta smelt.
With changing climate resulting in less snowpack and more significant rainstorms, California water supplies have become less reliable from one year to the next. Sites can be filled from just a handful of winter storms and will only be filled after all environmental needs and existing water rights have been met. It will be a significant new supply of water, captured in an environmentally friendly manner, for use during the next inevitable drought.
If Sites already existed, the reservoir would have been nearly full after the storms between last October and March. That’s enough water to serve 3.6 million Californians for an entire year and to relieve stress on Sacramento Valley, Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California water systems, including many urban districts that are vulnerable to water shortages during drought conditions.
Sites will secure water for the Sacramento region by providing more options to flexibly manage Folsom Reservoir. The combined statewide and local benefits of the Sites Reservoir are well worth the investment.
Besides water supply reliability for communities and farms, Sites provides three unique environmental benefits. It would allow the preservation of cold water in Shasta later into the summer help salmon during dry years and would increase flows in the Sacramento River during the most critical times for native fish species. Water from Sites would enhance the Cache Slough for Delta smelt, and would dramatically improve conditions in wildlife refuges.
There’s a reason the project has been promoted for the last 65 years – California needs a new water management tool that stabilizes supplies for the environment, farms, families and businesses. On behalf of the city of Sacramento, we hope the state won’t pass up on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Jeff Harris represents District 3 on the Sacramento City Council and is a member of the Sites Project Authority Board. He can be contacted at JSHarris@cityofsacramento.org.