FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KGPE) – A plan to create a new man-made lake for water storage is now another step closer to development.
The United States Bureau of Reclamation is releasing their latest updated plans on the proposed Sites Reservoir north of the San Joaquin Delta.
The proposed Sites Reservoir would hold up to 1,500,000 acre-feet of water. That’s three times the size of Millerton Lake.
The new report from the Bureau of Reclamation revises plans and impacts and opens a 60-day window for public comment.
Located north of the Delta, the man-made reservoir would be the 8th biggest in California and the largest built since the 1970s.
Sites Reservoir, however, will not have a dam. Instead, water from the Sacramento River will travel 14 miles in an underground pipeline to fill the basin, avoiding the environmental impacts involved in damming rivers.
Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen says, “It’s been said that with climate change we’re going to see more of our precipitation come as rainfall instead of snowpack we have historically seen in the Sierra Nevada. That is extraordinarily problematic for our water infrastructure because our water infrastructure was built for the Sierra Nevada to gradually melt over the course of the spring and summer months to fill those reservoirs. If we get more of that precipitation via rainfall coming all at once, we need more buckets, AKA reservoirs, to be able to capture those high flows.”
“Part of the success of the Sites Reservoir Project is the fact that it is offstream storage. I think we need a combination of off-stream and on-stream storages but Sites Reservoir being offstream ran into fewer environmental challenges versus some of the other environmental projects proposed up and down the state.”
Although Sites isn’t planned to directly supply water to farms around Fresno, it increases what’s available overall. Agricultural water allocations to farmers are sometimes lowered when water is instead prioritized for environmental needs. Sites could provide up to 300 thousand acre-feet of water for this in dry years.
Jacobsen says, “We have seen a massive rededication of water here in the San Joaquin Valley toward environmental purposes in the last two decades. And what that’s done is really caused a short supply in the agricultural direction.”
The project has not been given the green light yet. This report is just one step in the process. Funding comes from investors, a 2014 water bond, and expectantly, the new infrastructure bill. If approved, additional planning and construction could take at least ten more years.
Jacobsen says, “These are not a luxury. These are things that we need just to plan for California’s future.”