Maxwell, California - California is getting closer to creating a massive new reservoir within a huge natural Colusa County valley that's shaped like an elongated oval bowl.
When completed, the long-proposed, $4 billion Sites Reservoir will hold enough water to feed the needs of five million homes a year or a half million acres of farmland. That's enough water to cover every square inch of San Francisco 50 feet deep.
Currently, there's a big gap between the supply of water in California and the demand for it. But, if you close off a 300-foot wide gap and another one just like it, you could easily create one of the largest reservoirs in all of California. In fact, it would be the seventh-largest mega reservoir.
This huge, naturally occurring bowl, was first identified by the California Department of Water Resources in the 1950s as a potential reservoir when it was contemplating the rapid growth of California more than drought and not even an inkling about something called 'climate change.'
Jerry Brown, no relation to the former governor, says Sites Reservoir would increase Northern California's reservoir water storage capacity by 15%, with the water to be shared between state's biggest water goals.
"It serves farms, families, fish and fowl," said Brown, the Sites Project Authority executive director. Those benefits would stretch from the northern Central Valley and the Bay Area, all the way to southern California.
Sites would get its water from the Sacramento River. But, water would only be taken in the rainy season and only when the water flow is very high, when much that overflow ends up going out to sea.
"It teleports water that comes to us naturally in the wetter periods to the drier times when we need it more," said Brown.
The water would be sent through 180 miles of canals westward to the Sites Project near Maxwell. All but 12 miles of that already exist, saving enormous costs.
"With our changing climate, with our drought conditions, extended drought periods, wetter wets, drier drys, I think the problems are becoming more serious and that necessitates, you know, putting something like this into place," said Brown.
Once constructed, it would take about five to seven years in drier years to fill it but, in a super wet year, it could be done in one winter. The primary opposition to Sites is from environmentalists who do now want to see high water flows diminished.
Fewer than two dozen people live in what would be the Site Reservoir, some families here for many generations. While the land can be used for cattle grazing, many ranchers here actually truck their cattle to Oregon to feed on green grass. "There's pretty good support from those folks who are really giving up a lot in order to make this possible for all the rest of us," said Brown.
Final approval of all funding sources, almost $900 million already approved by state voters, another $1 billion from the federal government and just over $2 billion from the waiting list of many participating local water agencies, cities and counties should be finalized by 2024.
Actual construction would begin in 2025 and the reservoir would begin operations in 2031.