Amid drought, California pushes big new reservoir project – CBS Sacramento

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Amid a severe drought, California regulators voted on Wednesday to advance what could be the state’s first major new water storage project in decades, despite warnings from tribal and environmental groups that this would accelerate the extinction of several species of salmon.

The California Water Commission vote guaranteed that the Sites Reservoir project will remain eligible for around $ 800 million in taxpayer dollars, which is about 20% of the project’s roughly $ 4 billion price tag.

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The reservoir is one of seven water storage projects slated to receive funding from a voter-approved bond in 2014. Most of the money would go to expanding existing reservoirs or building new ones. water recycling programs.

But the Sites reservoir is different because it would flood a valley in the mountains of the California Coast Range to create a new lake that supporters say would be enough to supply 3 million homes per year when filled to capacity.

California has not built a major new reservoir since 1979. Since then, multiple droughts have strained the state’s water supply and renewed calls for more ways to capture and store water. major rivers and streams in the state.

“The Sites Reservoir project is not going to solve all of our problems,” said Jerry Brown, executive director of the Sites Reservoir Authority, who is not related to the former California governor of the same name. “If we do absolutely nothing, I can assure you that things will get worse. “

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The California Water Commission said on Wednesday that the project is feasible, which means it meets all the requirements to remain eligible for public funding. There are still many steps to be taken for the project to receive public funding, approval by the Water Commission before the end of the year was necessary for the project to retain its eligibility.

Environmental and tribal groups have complained that the Water Commission acted prematurely in declaring the project feasible, especially since environmental reviews required by state and federal laws have not been completed.

Most of California’s major reservoirs are connected to rivers and depend on gravity to fill them with water from melting mountain snow. Reservoir water for the sites would be pumped from the nearby Sacramento River.

The idea behind the reservoir is to take water from the river only when it has extra water to give, such as during big storms like last October that set a record for precipitation in Sacramento in just one day. Environmental groups say it doesn’t make sense because all the water in rivers has an important purpose.

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“There is no excess water in the environment,” said Steve Evans, director of rivers for the California Wilderness Coalition. “This water is necessary for fishing and for the water quality in downstream ecosystems and every time you take it out of the system, you have an environmental impact.”

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