What’s the Deal with Sites Reservoir? Northern California’s New 13-Mile Lake is Gaining Steam

As water storage has become one of the major issues California faces in the modern age, officials are looking for new ways to store water and provide flood management throughout the state. Much of the state is fed by the water coming down through Mount Shasta and Lassen by way of the Sacramento River, and a new plan to hold this water in a new lake is gaining steam.

The Sites Reservoir is a proposed 13-mile lake about 10 miles west of Maxwell in Colusa County that would hold nearly 200 billion gallons of water diverted from the Sacramento River. The project has bipartisan support among California politicians and will help manage the large number of water that travels down to the San Francisco Bay from Far NorCal.

The water would be held in a large, desolate area and controlled by a brand new Golden Gate Dam, roughly two times the size of Folsom Dam. Here is a look at the proposed site for the reservoir:

The benefits of Sites Reservoir reach well-beyond water storage and flood management (although those benefits cannot be understated) with significant ramifications for Northern California wildlife. The reservoir’s water will allow colder water to be stored higher north, like Lake Oroville and Shasta Lake, which should help future salmon runs. The area would also double as a wildlife habitat for migratory birds and other native wildlife. The project would help create another renewable energy source and provide regional and statewide jobs for Northern Californians.

The project was recently allocated nearly a billion dollars through Proposition 1, but will need roughly $5.2 billion to complete. The Sites reservoir could begin construction in 2022, with the reservoir projected to be operational in 2029.

Not everyone supports the Sites Reservoir. Conservation groups like the Sierra Club oppose the project, preferring conservation over water storage. Either way, these water storage projects might deter lawmakers from attempting to increase the size of the Shasta Dam, which we’ve publicly opposed.

While the construction of the dam was authorized nearly 20 years ago, it looks as if there is finally some movement on this project. With recent forecasts of increased extreme weather in the state, it’s about time we finally put our money where our mouth is. Will the Sites Reservoir finally be built? Only time will tell.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


  1. Funny that you should mention steam. My first thought is, given it’s location in such a hot, dry and barren landscape, how much water is lost to evaporation? How efficient is this as water “storage”? Given our uncertain climate, how are the waters managed during folld conditions? And, most importantly, what are the downstream consequences to the Sacramento River and it’s fisheries?

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