Ag Today February 2, 2017

Does California need more water infrastructure?

Giacomo Luca, KXTV 1:21 PM. PST February 01, 2017

As the The Valley is slammed with rain and storms, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is coming in under average for snow fall totals, which accounts for nearly 30 percent of drinking water for all Californian.

The under average conditions brings up the question, does California need more water infrastructure?

Existing water storage infrastructure
The state already has a lot of water infrastructure including reservoirs, aquifers, and dams.

More than 1,400 dams play an integral role in helping move water from the northern part of the state to the southern portion.

Where the water flows
Water storage provides numerous benefits in the state from seasonal fish flows and watering cooling to sustain salmon to water quality, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

The high demand resource is diverted to several key areas according to the Northern California Water Association – 51 percent of the state’s water is devoted to human use, including 41 percent for agriculture and 10 percent for urban use. The other 49 percent to is dedicated to aquatic environment, including nine percent to stream flows, 31 percent to wild and scenic rivers, two percent for wetlands, and seven percent to Delta outflow.

Water saving efforts reached nearly 19 percent in November and down more than two percent from the same time last year, according to the state’s Water Resource Control Board. Still, most of the Golden State remains under drought conditions.

$7.5 billion of investment funding through Proposition 1
In 2014, voters approved a $7.5 billion water bond, including $2.7 billion for storage projects, to provide funding to water projects and programs throughout the state. Since then, government agencies across the state have been developing the process for accepting proposals.

This February, the Water Commission will consider bids on numerous water storage projects across the state. The program will allow up to 50 percent funding for a projects that directly benefit the Delta.

Deputy Director of the California Department of California Water Resources said one proposals are accepted, it’s likely the commission will move forward quickly with project that show plausibility.

“The department has been looking at storage projects for many years,” Bardini said. “Not just for water supply but for environmental protection and meeting additional Delta outflow requirements.”

Each of these organizations will be competing for limited funding and will only be able to receive public funding up to 50 percent of the estimated cost of the project,” Bardini said.

“Sites Project” proposes more than 500,000 acre-feet in storage

Just 60 miles North of Sacramento is the rural town of Maxwell – The proposed site of a more than $4 billion reservoir project.

Jim Watson is the Sites Reservoir Project manager who says this project could be one way to increase water storage in the state.

“The Sites Reservoir Project is proposed to be a 1.8 million acre-foot off stream storage reservoir that could benefit not only the Sacramento Valley but the entire state,” Watson said.

According to the Sites Project website, the above ground storage system could hold more than 162 billion gallons of water or enough water to serve more than 3.2 million Californians.

More public funding would be needed to make such a project happen, Watson said.

“I don’t believe it’s sufficient to get the state ahead of projected growth or to be able to adequately manage through an uncertain future with effects of climate change.
Critiques say more dams not the answer
Policy Advocate Ron Stork with Sacramento based Friends of the River organization said the cost of building all of the major proposed projects in the state would surpass $9 billion and leave a large environmental footprint.

“We can’t dam our way to paradise anymore because we have already dammed most of our rivers,” Stork said.

Even if there was enough money to pay for all of these projects, Stork said it would amount to an increase about 2 percent, a generous estimate Stork added, to that states total water storage.

The small increase is not worth the cost, Stork said.