Sites Reservoir now eligible for $933 million of Prop. 1 funding

On Friday, California Water Commission staff released updated assessments of the public benefits for 10 proposed water storage projects that are seeking bond money, including Sites Reservoir, which may receive an additional $300 million in funding as a result of the reappraisal of the project’s public benefits. 

A total of $2.7 billion was included in the Proposition 1 bond measure – approved by California voters in November 2014 –which funds the public benefit aspects of water storage projects: ecosystem benefits, water quality, flood control, emergency response, and recreation. Applicants for Proposition 1 funding were required to detail those public benefits, among other criteria, to receive funding. The public benefit score represents 33 percent of the overall Water Commission scoring. The other components include relative environmental value, resiliency, and implementation risk — factors that will be assessed next.

The initial 11 applicants gave their estimates on the value of those public benefits to the Commission back in December. The Commission released their own scores for the projects in February, which came back much lower than the estimates by the applicants.

Ten of the applicants – the Sites Project among them – appealed, and the Commission’s responses to those appeals were released last week.

“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,” the commission said in a news release.

Commission staff analyzed the new information and issued the revised assessments of the public benefits on Friday.

“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 said. “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,” Quintero added.

What it means for Sites

The commission determined that Sites Reservoir was eligible for $663 million in Proposition 1 funds based on its initial public benefit score. After the updated public benefit assessments were released on Friday, the commission reported that the Sites Project’s score had improved, and was now eligible for up to $933 million. The number is still well short of the $1.4 billion asked for in the revised Proposition 1 funding request submitted by Sites officials. In total, the proposed 1.8 million acre-foot reservoir would cost $5.2 billion to build. 

The increase in the project’s score reflects the acceptance of ecosystem benefits for wildlife refuges and Yolo Bypass flows. Claims by Sites officials that the project would benefit anadromous fish and the cold water pool in Lake Oroville were rejected. 

“The Sites Project offers the state an opportunity to manage a significant amount of water to benefit wildlife and native fish in the Sacramento Watershed,” Sites Project Authority Chair Fritz Durst said in a release. “We are pleased to have received credit for our benefits to Delta smelt, and that the Sites Project is now eligible for $933.3 million. We think there is still room for discussion with the Commission about the benefits we offer for salmon. We greatly appreciate the work done by staff to evaluate all of the Prop 1 applicants, and look forward to continuing to make our case with the Commission in May.”

The scores released on Friday are not final – the Sites Project Authority said in a press release that it would be meeting with the Water Commission staff on Tuesday to receive additional information regarding the revised public benefit score, and was expecting a final determination of the score from the Commission at their May 1-3 meeting.

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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