State Water Commission may give $300M more for Sites Reservoir Project | TheUnion.com

State Water Commission may give $300M more for Sites Reservoir Project

Steve Miller
Special to The Union

It's still about a half a billion dollars less than requested, but Sites Reservoir proponents learned Friday that the project got quite an increase in proposed funding via the state Water Commission.

The Commission released a report and chart re-appraising the value of water storage and conservation projects proposed for funding through Proposition 1, a 2014 voter-approved bond issue. The Commission was tasked with scoring proposals based on their value to the public. The Commission earlier found that project proposals weren't eligible for the funding they requested and invited proponents to appeal and bolster their cases.

Sites, in that original round, was appraised to be worthy of $662 million in Prop 1 funding. The entire Sites Reservoir project is estimated to cost $5.2 billion and the Joint Project Authority had requested $1.4 billion in Prop 1 money.

With the reappraisal, the Commission reports that Sites' score improved and is eligible for additional funding up to $942 million. That amount is still not final and won't be until a May Commission meeting.

Sites is proposed as an off-stream reservoir that would straddle Glenn and Colusa counties. Water would be pumped into the reservoir in wet times; and would augment supplies for fish, communities and irrigation downstream in dry times.

According to a news release from the Commission, the updated assessments of public benefits for the projects brings them a step closer to awarding the $2.7 billion set aside for such projects. To be eligible, projects have to bring value through a combination of ecosystem improvements, water quality improvements, flood control, recreation and emergency response.

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"Many initial funding applications did not include sufficient information about public benefits so the Commission provided another opportunity in February for applicants to submit additional information," it was reported in a Water Commission news release. Ten applicants, including Sites proponents, submitted additional information about the public benefits of the proposed project.

"Based on this updated assessment, the Commission will be able to potentially allocate all the available water storage funding this summer."

Local Assemblyman James Gallagher, who favors the Sites project, said this reassessment was a step in the right direction. Though the staff-suggested funding level is still far less than was applied for, he said his understanding is that the project could still go ahead at the new level. But he said the number isn't final, as of yet.

"We still want to make the case there are other public benefits to Sites and that discussion will keep on going," he said.

The updated staff assessments of public benefit will be considered by the Commission at its May 1-3 meeting. A staff member said that all applicants can be present and some back and forth is expected.

"We appreciate the hard work of the applicants who submitted new details about the potential public benefits of these water storage projects," Commission Chair Armando Quintero was quoted in the news release. "Our staff took this new information into account and released new assessments that will help our Commission make decisions at our next meeting in May. We are on track to potentially award all of the available funding for new water storage projects this summer – fulfilling the requirements of Proposition 1 and marking a significant step toward expanding the state's water storage capacity."

Sites Project Authority Chairman Fritz Durst stated in a press release that the project received additional credit for showing that it would benefit wildlife and native fish in the Sacramento Watershed.

"We think there is still room for discussion with the Commission about the benefits we offer for salmon," he stated.

The Sites Project Authority will meet with Water Commission staff on April 24 to receive additional information regarding the revised public benefit score.

Steve Miller is editor of the Appeal-Democrat in Marysville.

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