Branding, bills, and buyers: Sites Project celebrates progress

Assembly Member James Gallagher speaks about the sites project at a press conference in Maxwell on Oct. 21.
Assembly Member James Gallagher speaks about the sites project at a press conference in Maxwell on Oct. 21.

Debuting a logo, a new website, and a (relatively) new office, the Sites Reservoir Project unveiled the fruits of a months-long branding effort at a press conference in Maxwell on Oct. 21.

The new logo for the project — a sleek, minimalist graphic with elements that connect the environment, farms, and water — was attached to a podium at the front of the Sites Joint Powers Authority headquarters, where an equally diverse group of people came together and took turns speaking about the project’s progress and milestones. Local and state elected officials, regional water managers, and agricultural, labor, and business leaders were among those on hand to celebrate a number key milestones. “We have a lot to be proud of,” Kim Vann, Sites Board chair, said.

The Sites Reservoir offstream storage project, which continues to gain momentum, could add 500,000 acre-feet of water to be used by the state’s homes, farms, businesses, and for the ecosystem in an average year.

Among the milestones celebrated on Oct. 21 were the passage of an assembly bill that will speed up the construction and reduce the cost of the reservoir, and the addition of new agencies who have pledged to take part in the project.

The bill, AB-2551, was co-authored by Assemblyman James Gallagher and State Senator Jim Nielsen, and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 28 of this year. Both Gallagher and Nielsen spoke at the press conference.

“This is a historic day. For over 50 years, since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, we’ve been talking about Sites Reservoir,” Gallagher said. “But with what we’ve put together right now, we are actually on the path to making Sites a reality.”

Why will it be different this time around? Gallagher cited a confluence of circumstances that point to Sites finally getting built: the passage of Proposition 1, which made $2.7 billion available for water storage projects; the interest and commitment shown by stakeholders; successful outreach and promotion by the Sites Joint Powers Authority; and the passage of AB-2551.

Nielsen commended the board for their work so far, and said that the progress on the proposed Sites Reservoir Project -— and more generally, the passage of Proposition 1 — signaled a paradigm shift in California’s water and energy policy.

“This is not for us. This is for our grandchildren. This is a time in California history where we are looking forward again — we’re looking big, rather than small. We’re not lowering expectations; we’re raising our expectations,” Nielsen said.

The renewed focus on investing in water infrastructure and the passage of Proposition 1 were made possible by a “broad coalition” of interests, Nielsen said, and that coalition would need to remain intact.

“Don’t  savor the victory and think the deal is done. Until we break ground, and we put the last gallon in that reservoir, it won’t be a done deal. So let’s keep together, and let’s launch another push to ensure this dream becomes a reality for our children,” Nielsen said.

Other participants spoke about the economic and ecological benefits of the project, locally and statewide.

“Sites is a critical project for both the local and statewide economy,” said Robbie Hunter, President of State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. “A project of this magnitude will help stabilize water supplies and provide much needed economic development in the North State region while also creating thousands of jobs and apprenticeship opportunities for local young men and women.”

“The North State has embraced a new and different conversation about water that will more effectively serve the needs of the environment,” said David Guy, President of the Northern California Water Association. “Sites is one of only a handful of water storage projects that can truly deliver the public benefits of environmental flows and water quality.”

“Family Water Alliance, Inc., and their Sacramento Valley Fish Screen Program have worked to protect and save California fish species for over 20 years,” said Nadine Bailey with Family Water Alliance. “Our organization supports the Sites Project because it is a solution that will protect California family farms and our fishery resources.”

“Building Sites Reservoir is vital the Sacramento Valley,” said Tim Johnson, President and CEO of the California Rice Commission. “We need additional surface water storage to help all aspects of our region for future generations, including four annual salmon runs, habitat for millions of birds that depend on area rice fields, our small towns and family farms.”

Private investment

In her opening comments, Vann noted that 34 agencies had joined Sites “in a demonstration of support.” Of the 34 agencies currently investing in the project, 19 are in the Sacramento Valley.

That support is crucial, as commitments by those agencies have directly funded the project in its first phase.

The project has commitments from those 34 agencies for a total of about 377,000 annual acre-feet of water through Phase 1 of the project. Those currently participating are ponying up about $60 per acre-foot of water. That cost will rise incrementally over the project’s five phases. By the time water is actually there to be delivered, the cost per acre-foot will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $600.

Should the Sites project receive full amount of the Proposition 1 funding it is seeking, however, there might not be 377,000 acre-feet of water available to private investors.

The Sites Reservoir project is currently seeking about $2.1 billion, or half of the anticipated cost of constructing the reservoir, in bond funding made available by Proposition 1.

If the state elects to finance that $2.1 billion in full, it would guarantee that half of the estimated 500,000 acre-feet of water the reservoir could store annually would go to public benefits, leaving 250,000 acre-feet for investors and private water users.

The project has a little breathing room with commitments for 377,000 acre-feet from the private sector. At a meeting earlier this year, Sites Reservoir general manager Jim Watson said that the project would need commitments for about 330,000 acre-feet of water in the event that the water commission would only fund $1.5 billion of the project.

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net