USDA awards Sites Project $449 million to connect two large canals 

Trump Administration officials were in Maxwell last week to announce a $450 million USDA loan to the Sties Reservoir JPA to build a 3.5-mile pipeline connecting the Colusa-Tehama and Glenn-Colusa canals, giving Sacramento Valley farmers more access to irrigation water as early as 2024. 

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue made the announcement at the Funks Reservoir inlet/outlet structure for the federally-operated Colusa-Tehama Canal, west of Maxwell, on Nov. 27, where he was joined by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Assistant Secretary to the Army for Civil Corps Works R.D. James, U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, of Richvale, Central Valley congressmen David Valadao and Jeff Denham, Sen. Jim Nielsen, Assemblyman James Gallagher, and other officials. Rep. John Garamendi, who was also a partner in Congress in approving the funding, was unable to attend. 

Purdue said the investment is the single largest federal loan the USDA has given a project to date – far surpassing the previous record of $174 million. 

“We thank our members from Congress to allow the USDA to participate with the State of California and the local water districts to do something I think is very creative,” Purdue said. “The intertie of these two canals will allow us to move water both directions between the river and the canals and the Sites Reservoir, which will be a huge water storage facility for California. This is going to be an amazing project that has so many benefits, not only for agriculture, but human drinking water, as well as the environment for fish.” 

The intertie will tap into the existing PG&E power grid, and will move water through a 12-foot tunnel at 900 cubic feet per second between the two canals, Sites officials said. Once it becomes part of the larger Sites project, it will provide even more flexibility to the state’s water system, by moving water at 5,900 cubic feet per second from the Sacramento River to the 1.8 million cubic foot storage reservoir when runoff levels are high in wet years, then returned to the river to be used as drinking and irrigation water during dry periods.

“It is intended to improve the efficiency of how we move water here in the western part of the Sacramento Valley,” said Sites General Manager Jim Watson. “(The intertie) can be operated independently as a stand-alone facility to provide benefits to agriculture – which obviously benefits rural communities in this area. When it is operated in conjunction to the larger Sites Reservoir, the benefits expand not only in the Sacramento Valley, but to the San Joaquin Valley, Bay Area and Southern California. It is a major step in helping to solve some of the issues here in this part of the valley.” 

Watson said that having 1.8 million acre-feet of additional water during drought would allow water for agriculture, water for cities, and water for fish in the late summer. 

Secretary Purdue, who is from Georgia, said his state would love a project like Sites to store water during its rainy season for use during the summer and late fall.

“It’s a very creative idea, and the best thing is that it demonstrates the ability of local water districts, local governments, the state government of California, as well as our Congress and President Trump in being here to work together,” he said. 

Secretary Zinke is from Montana, where, to quote Mark Twain, “whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting over.” 

“The two projects I’m excited about are the Sites Reservoir and Shasta,” he said. “The good thing is that California is blessed with a lot of water. But we also need storage. These two projects, I think, are an example of what we can do when we work together to provide storage flexibility, for environmental stewardship, for making sure we have the farms and for municipalities. (Sites) will change the direction of California where you are not beholding to drought.” 

Jeff Sutton, general manager of the Tehama-Colusa Canal, said the Maxwell Intertie and Sites Reservoir, once completed, would allow the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to keep more water in Lake Shasta, which would benefit salmon.

The project would also allow the region the water flexibility to maintain rice production, which provides food, supports the Pacific Flyway and other wildlife, while providing water for other uses, such as recreation, Sites officials said. 

“It’s our goal to see all of our goals rise together,” said Sites JPA Chairman Fritz Durst. 

Durst added that the Sites Reservoir project continues to receive widespread bipartisan support, and is supported by the people of California, who voted for more water storage infrastructure when they approved Proposition 1, of which Sites was allocated $816 million. ■