The Conversation

The Conversation Sites reservoir

The proposed Sites reservoir on the west side of the Sacramento Valley could be an important part of a broad portfolio of water assets that include more wastewater recycling, stormwater capture, desalination, conservation and environmental protection.
The proposed Sites reservoir on the west side of the Sacramento Valley could be an important part of a broad portfolio of water assets that include more wastewater recycling, stormwater capture, desalination, conservation and environmental protection. Sacramento Bee file

The California Water Commission will be deciding on how to spend $2.7 billion in water bond money on water storage projects. A proposal to build Sites reservoir is one possible proposal for surface water storage. There will be other surface storage proposals as well as projects to fund groundwater recharge. Last Sunday’s editorial, “State needs to invest in Sites reservoir,” stated Sites reservoir would fit into a modern water system for California and provide flexibility to deal with climate change and a growing demand for an uncertain water supply.


Sites is a bad deal for California

Sites reservoir represents a dead era of dam building that, if reawakened, will compound existing environmental problems facing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, waste taxpayer dollars and not solve California’s water supply problems.

Storage funds from the water bond are only for the “public benefits” that storage projects provide. Ecosystem improvements and water quality are two such benefits. Sites could provide neither of these affordably.

The reservoir will remove water from the Sacramento River, drown 14,000 acres that now contain important plant and wildlife complexes and then be operated in a way that releases warm water back into the river, effectively cooking salmon and other species.

There are smarter ways to invest to increase water supply while protecting the environment. One would be to invest in groundwater storage south of the Delta. It is cost-effective, environmentally safer, climate resilient and would provide six times the storage for the money.

Kathryn Phillips,


director of

Sierra Club California

Sites project has bipartisan support

In endorsing Sites reservoir, The Sacramento Bee joins bipartisan lawmakers from throughout California, business and agricultural associations, local governments and environmental groups in supporting the most beneficial and cost-effective proposal in the state.

The Department of Water Resources found the flexibility Sites adds would have increased water supplies by 1.1 million acre-feet during the drought, enough to supply nearly 9 million people for a year. Even California’s House Republicans and Senate Democrats agree on Sites’ benefits, and the recently passed appropriations measure included provisions accelerating planning for the project.

As the California Water Commission begins distributing Proposition 1 funding, it should recognize that Sites is the one project in California that meets the bond’s requirements and has virtually universal support.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa,


Invest in dams and salmon, too

I agree with the need for more water storage in California, and I think that some of the funding for the Sites reservoir should be used to mitigate the damage done to salmon populations by previously constructed dams. Nearby examples are Black Butte reservoir on Stony Creek and the Camp Far West dam on the Bear River.

While restoring salmon migration around large dams such as those might not be cost-effective, there are dozens of smaller streams that feed into the Sacramento River and once hosted large salmon populations but now support only a few because of outdated water diversion systems.

These old systems can be upgraded to allow salmon migration without interfering with deliveries. At least 20 diversions could be upgraded for less than 1 percent of the cost of Sites. Streams that now support a few dozen salmon could produce thousands. Now that is a return on investment.

James Haufler, Lincoln

Less produce, more production

Sites reservoir has a certain capacity, but that is not how much water would be made available annually. Like others it will be operated to provide a “firm annual yield”; it will not be refilled and drained completely every year.

It will subsidize a minor industry in California, agriculture, and even then only a portion of it. No Salinas Valley lettuce will be grown with Sites water. Ninety-eight percent of our state’s gross domestic product of $2.42 trillion has nothing to do with agriculture. Other states should step forward to produce some of the luxury fruits and nuts primarily exported from California using our unsustainable water supply.

What we need is to keep Silicon Valley and Hollywood building and growing here. A billion tax dollars could foster competition or build resilient transportation. Less agriculture means our cities will have all the water they need to produce and export what people want.

Dudley E. McFadden III, Roseville

Andrew Fulks – If the state does build it, it will need to buy the land surrounding the reservoir, up to the nearest ridgeline. This will protect the water quality and provide additional recreation opportunities. Otherwise we are spending billions to create waterfront homesites for developers.

Usha Paul Macgarvey – Yes! I think I have a fair understanding of the pros and cons, and I vote yes. Above-ground water storage alone won’t solve the problems but it’s part of the solution.