More than a century after the federal Orland Project was built in the western foothills of Colusa and Glenn counties, the Orland Water Users Association, which has managed the massive water system for more than six decades, is poised to take ownership.
The transfer of the project to a new public agency would be the most significant reclamation project transfer in California history, officials announced.
U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, who represents District 3 in Congress, introduced the “Orland Project Transfer Act” on April 13, at the request of the Orland Water Users’ Association. Rep. Doug LaMalfa is an original cosponsor of the legislation.
In order to assume full legal ownership of the Orland Project, the Orland Water Users’ Association would be required to first re-incorporate as a local public agency, such as a water or irrigation district.
If the bill is passed, it would transfer legal ownership of the Orland Project from the Bureau of Reclamation to the new agency, at no expense to taxpayers.
The water storage and irrigation system were built by the federal government in 1989, and the Water Users Association, which has managed it since 1958, has repaid its share of the construction costs.
The Orland Project encompasses East Park Reservoir, a 50,900 acre-feet water capacity reservoir, located in Colusa County, the Stony Gorge Reservoir (50,380 acre-feet), located in Glenn County, and approximately 17 miles of irrigation canal.
“The Orland Water Users’ Association believes it is now ready to assume legal ownership of the Orland Project, and I am thrilled to work to transfer the project to full local control,” Garamendi said, in a statement. “This bipartisan bill would also provide new investment to bring the Stony Gorge and East Park dams up to California’s stringent safety standards and make other improvements at the Orland Project, at no cost to taxpayers.”
The “Orland Project Transfer Act” would provide new dedicated funding to make capital improvements at the Orland Project by allowing the successor agency to keep proceeds from the sale of excess water. The bill would also provide a newly available funding source to address public safety concerns presented by uncovered irrigation canals in the City of Orland.
In 2017, a 20-month-old toddler drowned in the Orland Project’s uncovered irrigation canals near residential development.
Numerous agencies support the transfer, including the Colusa County Board of Supervisors.
Colusa County, since 2013, has worked closely with Reclamation and the Orland Water Users Association by managing the recreational aspect of East Park Reservoir, which has provided aesthetic and economic benefits to the region, officials said.
In a letter to Garamendi in January, Chairman Gary Evans, of Stonyford, said that the county looked forward to working with the new local entity in the years to come, rather than having to go through Reclamation as a third and controlling party.
“We support Orland’s effort in assuming the title of the Orland Project as it will provide the Association with the ability to determine its own destiny and to make independent decisions, locally, in operating and maintaining its facilities to better serve its landowners, as well as provide additional benefits to the area,” Evans stated, in the letter.
Northern California Water Association, Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority, the City of Orland, Glenn County Board of Supervisors, Rural County Representatives of California and the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District also support the transfer of ownership to the new public agency.