How California is Fast-Tracking a $4.5 Billion Lake to Improve Water Storage

California Governor Gavin Newsom has expedited the approval process for the Sites Reservoir, a significant water storage project north of Sacramento, utilizing new infrastructure laws to accelerate development and reduce regulatory barriers.

The proposed $4.5 billion reservoir, located on ranch lands in Glenn and Colusa counties, would become California’s first major reservoir in nearly half a century. Its primary purpose is to capture and store more water from the Sacramento River during wet years for use during droughts. The water would be diverted from the Sacramento Valley and held by a brand new Golden Gate Dam, roughly two times the size of Folsom Dam.

“We’re cutting red tape to build more faster,” stated Governor Newsom. “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.”

Supporters of the project emphasize its importance in increasing water storage, especially given the state’s increasingly erratic climate patterns. The reservoir has the capacity to hold up to 1.5 million acre-feet of water, equivalent to the annual water needs of 3 million households, benefiting both farms and cities across California.

Critics argue that the project could negatively impact fish habitats by reducing water availability in the river. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Water Climate Trust, have expressed concerns about methane emissions and other adverse effects.

Under Senate Bill 149, courts must resolve legal challenges related to projects under California’s Environmental Quality Act within 270 days, potentially preventing lengthy delays.

The project is estimated to cost $4.4 billion, with funding from Proposition 1, federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and contributions from water agencies. Construction is anticipated to commence in 2026 and conclude in 2032.

“This is a really big step forward for the Sites project and another example of how state and federal agencies are working together to build our water resilience amidst climate change,” said California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot. “Sites Reservoir promises to help us adjust to intensifying floods and droughts by storing water in big, wet winters like we just had for use during the dry years that we know will return.”

Newsom’s policy actions have generated some frustration among lawmakers. Originally, the infrastructure package included the controversial Delta Conveyance project, a 45-mile tunnel designed to divert water from the Sacramento River. However, it was removed from the fast-track process following objections.

While the Sites Reservoir would contribute a small percentage to California’s overall water supply, it represents significant water resources for certain districts. The Metropolitan Water District, which delivers 1.6 million acre-feet of imported water to 19 million people annually, would receive an additional 50,000 acre-feet from Sites, a 3% increase. The Zone 7 Water Agency, serving 270,000 people in the East Bay, would see a 20% increase in supply with the addition of 10,000 acre-feet from Sites.

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