California Considering $800M Reservoir Project as Drought Conditions Worsen

by Victoria Santiago

California is in the midst of a severe drought, and options are limited. California regulators have officially advanced a new water storage project. Unfortunately, the project will affect an endangered salmon species in the area, and ultimately hasten their extinction. Additionally, the project would disrupt some of the native tribes’ cultural traditions.

Native tribes are questioning the state’s ability to protect the salmon in the area. They’re used often for ceremonial purposes and provide food for the tribes.

The project is supposed offset drought effects by storing water in a manmade lake. The lake will be built in Northern California. Once built and filled, it will hold enough water to supply three billion residents with water for a year. The project has a price tag of $4 billion, per Yahoo. California Water Commission’s recent vote means that the project will be eligible for about $800 million in taxpayer money. This will cover about 20% of the cost of the lake, which will be called Sites Reservoir.

Environmental groups are up in arms about the project. Some are arguing that it’s too soon to vote on a project that is still in the beginning stages of creation. There are a lot of state and federal environmental reviews that the project must undergo before they can continue. Currently, fish hatcheries have to send their fish downstream via truck so they don’t die.

A Drought Might Render New Reservoir Useless

California already has 1,500 reservoirs. Many of the reservoirs are reaching all-time lows because of the current drought. The lack of water is severe, that water agencies across the state were told to not expect to any water from reservoirs in 2022.

Reservoirs in California are essential to daily life. They provide drinking water for almost 40 million residents of the state. In addition to that, they also regulate river flow and crop irrigation. The state produces two-thirds of the U.S.’s fruits and nuts and a third of the country’s vegetables.

The state is looking for any opportunities to capture and store water due to the severe drought. That being said, even if they do build a new lake to hold water, they might not even be able to fill it.

Water storage in California is mostly gravity-based. This means that most of the reservoirs are connected to rivers and fill with water when snow melts in the mountains. This new lake would be built differently. Instead of being directly connected to a river, Sites Reservoir would need to have water pumped into it. State rivers are already severely low, and the lake would only add to that.

The new lake doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. The lake would take water from the Sacremento River, but only when there’s a surplus of water. A surplus of water sounds counterintuitive, but officials explain that extra water comes from huge storms.

The California Water Commission pointed out that even though they voted in favor of the new lake, that doesn’t mean it’s final. Any input given by residents or agencies is used. The main goal is to do something that will help the state.