By next Tuesday, the Sites Reservoir Project will have applied for their water storage funding from the Proposition 1, the water bond measure approved by the state’s voters in 2014.
The Sites Reservoir Project already has enough water agencies signed on – a total of 28 of them – to allow the project to move forward without state funding, but the Sites Joint Powers Authority is nevertheless seeking Proposition 1 funding.
“We have participation requests that will allow us to continue, but we are pursuing the Prop 1 funding because of the state’s ability to invest in water for the environment,” said Sites Reservoir CEO Jim Watson.
A total of 28 water agencies have signed on to support the project in exchange for prorated shares of the water that will be stored in and delivered from the 1.8 million acre-foot reservoir. The annual amount of water delivered from the reservoir is estimated to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 500,000 acre-feet, and the participating water agencies have signed on to receive a total of more than 400,000 acre-feet of that – but they probably won’t be getting everything they signed up for.
According to Watson, the state will have the option to buy in for as much as half of the annual yield from Sites using the Proposition 1 funding. In order to receive Proposition 1 funding, a prospective water storage project must provide measurable benefits to the Delta ecosystem or its tributaries. In the case of Sites, Watson said, the public benefit will be environmental.
“We would like to see the state invest in water for the environment, especially because currently, the state does not have water it can draw on in any given year to try and manage for the environment. We’re proposing that the state have capacity in the reservoir that they would manage to attain the environmental benefits they are looking for. Over time, those priorities change and they can change how that water gets operated or released,” Watson said.
The Sites Project is competing with an untold number of projects across the state, all of which are vying for the $2.7 billion in Proposition 1 funding earmarked for water storage projects.
“We’ll find (how many projects there are) on (Aug.) 15,” Watson said. “I’m expecting probably about a dozen, but I don’t know specifically what that list would entail… There’s the three CALFED projects – Sites, Los Vaqueros and Temperance Flat – that are all expected to submit, and then there’s a number of other projects in various stages of development that are likely to submit as well.”
The Sites Project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report will be released to the public concurrent with the Proposition 1 application, Watson said on Monday. A pair of public hearings will be held in late September, giving the public a little over a month to review the roughly 6,000 pages of environmental documents.
“The first part is getting a draft out to seek public comment – that’s a major milestone,” said Watson. “It is another key part of getting public participation and getting that feedback into the project so that we can make it better and try to further minimize and avoid impacts. Part of the process is for the public to help inform us.”
What remains to be done
After the Proposition 1 application and environmental documents are filed on Aug. 14, Watson said that the Water Commission will be making initial decisions on comparisons of the applications they receive by Jan. 2018.
“They’re expecting to assign a conditional dollar amount to each project by June of next year,” Watson said. “The biggest condition is that you don’t get full funding, or funds encumbered for design and construction until you have all your permits, so we’re going to keep advancing the project with the goal of having all of our permits on hand by 2022, to be able to start construction.”
Between now and then, the aforementioned public hearings for the Draft Environmental Impact Report will need to take place. While the dates are not set in stone, Watson said the Sites Joint Powers Authority is shooting to hold those meetings on Sept. 26 and 28. Watson said that the Sites Joint Powers Authority went above and beyond the requirements for the public review period on the environmental documents.
“All the Water Commission requires (for the Proposition 1 application) – you could literally print what you have today and submit it. It’s not even an administrative level document… it’s a lower threshold,” Watson said. “But we recognize that really to help inform the (Water) Commission process and the stakeholders and the public, really to have a draft (environmental impact report) coincide with the application makes a lot of sense so they can understand the effects of the project, the range of alternatives, and ideally see the project we’re proposing to the Water Commission, why we feel it’s the superior project.”
The project still has to go through the permitting and water rights processes, which will not will need to take place whether the state buys in for a share of Sites Reservoir’s water or not.
“We’ve still got to run through those processes, and we need federal permits,” Watson said. “I think (receiving Proposition 1 funding) shows an interest, or a demand or need, but it doesn’t allow us to cut any corners.” ■