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Long-planned Sites Valley reservoir moves toward construction

Long-planned reservoir above Sacramento Valley advances toward construction
Long-planned reservoir above Sacramento Valley advances toward construction 04:31

As California enjoys a second robust winter in a row, calls for additional water storage may soon be getting an answer.

A new reservoir is something voters approved funding for years ago, and while progress has been slow, there are hopes that it may finally be moving ahead.

"Nothing has been built like this in California for more than 30 years,' said Executive Director of the Sites Reservoir Authority Jerry Brown.

It's been nearly 70 years since California took a look at the Sites Valley, and saw the potential for a reservoir that could have been as large as Shasta. he plan now is for something not quite that large, but still massive.

"The peak that we see to the north," Brown explained. "That's not even the northernmost location of the reservoir. The peaks you see to the south to the end of those do represent pretty much close to the end of the southern portion. And that's about 6 miles for a total of 13 miles overall."

Brown insists the long, slow push to create new water storage is moving ahead, and the payoffs, he says, will be as large as the new lake. It will not dam a river, which is good for fish. Instead, water will be pumped up out of the valley.

"We're basically bringing water in off of the river during high flow," he said. "And storing it here in this valley and then releasing it back out to be used or flow back into the river during dry periods."

The natural bowl of limestone creating the valley does most of the work, so only two relatively small dams will be required. And of all the 180 miles of conveyance required to move water up to the reservoir, only 15 miles of it will have to be new. 

"The Sites Reservoir will be the eighth largest surface water storage reservoir in the state of California," Brown said. "That can serve the needs of about 4 1/2 million people for a year."

So what happens to what's here? The community of Sites, and the valley, where some members of the Sites family still live, this would all be submerged.

"This location would be underwater about 300 feet," Brown said, driving through town.

The Authority is negotiating with landowners, and most are said to be on board with the project. Most are reluctant to talk, as this discussion has dragged on for generations now.

"60 years," Brown said of the time elapsed. "And it's never happened. So you can imagine the fatigue that you might feel with people telling you you've got a move, and then no, you don't. But I think, but I think they're getting to the place, and they're older, where they understand the importance of this to the community. "

The state, with a push from the Governor, is trying to get things moving. A project design has been submitted, and now a water right must be obtained. That critical hurdle is expected to be cleared in the next year.

"After after that, we will then start construction in 2026," Brown projected. "And we figure it's about a seven year construction. So about the end of 2032." 

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