In 2014 voters approved a $7.5 billion water bond, which included $2.7 billion for construction of new dams and reservoirs. Unfortunately, few projects are underway, or even being planned.
Our largest dams and reservoirs were built before 1979, most between 1945 and 1968, when our population was less than half its current size. I have long supported efforts to increase water storage and conveyance capacity, to expand water recycling, and increase use of desalination. However, bureaucratic hurdles have delayed or prevented most new projects for decades.
One example is the proposed Sites Reservoir in Northern California. Located northwest of Sacramento, the reservoir project was first proposed in the 1980s. Water would be pumped from the Sacramento River system during wet winters through existing canals to a new, artificial lake that would not be directly connected to any river or stream. The water would be stored and distributed back into the Sacramento River system during dry cycles. Construction is projected to begin next year, with a 2030 or 2031 target date for completion. In other words, if completed, the project will have taken almost 50 years.
Over the past few weeks, California received trillions of gallons of rainfall, our snowpack in much of the Sierra Nevada range is 200% above normal, and in the spring our rivers and reservoirs will be full. But during the recent storms, it’s estimated that 95% of rainfall collected in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta flowed into the sea. Because of California’s inadequate storage capacity, the vast majority of snowmelt and future rainfall will also wind up in the ocean.
The voters spoke in 2014 when they allocated billions for water projects. By now, many new projects should be underway, but that hasn’t happened. The Sites Reservoir example must not be repeated. We need to start building more water storage facilities now, not in 2073.