A Voice for the Sacramento River System Since 1984

Sites Reservoir (Proposed)

Project Info

Project Description

UPDATE: Our Board of Directors, in coordination with our non-profit and agency partners, has reviewed the 2017 EIR/EIS for the proposed Sites Reservoir project and submitted comments. (View our comments here.) The California Water Commission (CWC) has reviewed the Water Storage Investment Program (WSIP) application from the Sites Joint Powers Authority (Sites JPA) and concluded that it does not meet the 50% public benefit requirement to receive Proposition 1 bond funds. (WSIP Response.) The majority of the proposed water storage projects that were submitted for review did not achieve the necessary public benefit required to receive public dollars through Proposition 1.

History: Since its inception we have been OPPOSED to the PROPOSED SITES RESERVOIR PROJECT for a variety of reasons. The main issue we have with this project is that it does not increase floodplain habitat along the main stem or tributaries of the Sacramento River and it does not promote the physical meander of the Sacramento River. A river must move to stay alive.

What is this PROPOSED project?

  • 1.8 million acre-foot reservoir on the west side of the Sacramento Valley outside the city of Maxwell.
  • Potential annual yield (water to be delivered and used annually) = 500,000 acre-feet
  • Up to 8 dams required.
  • Cost estimates are $4.4 – $6.6 billion
  • We really don’t know much for sure about this project because it has not gone through the required planning process yet, but it sure looks pretty on their website. Interesting that such a no-brainer project that was investigated thirty years ago hasn’t been built…


  • Has potentially significant impacts to the flow of the Sacramento River, potentially reducing the in-stream flow at Colusa by half based on models provided by the Department of Water Resources.
  • Potential significant impacts to endangered and threatened species: Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Bank Swallows, Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beatles, Yellow-billed cuckoos, Amsinckia lunaris, Golden eagles, and others.  
  • Loss of investment related to already acquired and restored public lands along the main stem of the Sacramento River: USFWS Sacramento River NAtional Wildlife Refuge, BLM’s Bend Area, and many others.
  • Potential for increased conjunctive use of groundwater throughout the Sacramento River Valley’s agricultural zones in the place of the surface water they may have used if there was not pressure to fill Sites each year.
  • Does not provide adequate public benefit for public dollars that may be spent on the project. Most public benefit being derived from increased cold-water pool storage left in other reservoirs which is already required.
  • Is intended to be a privately owned and operated reservoir. (We have now seen what happens when water agencies and districts do not maintain their facilities at Oroville Dam and when this occurs we, the public, pay the tab – losing valuable environmental resources as well as private property.)
  • Has not gone through the proper project review process required under our important California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) guidelines.
  • The proposed reservoir only provides, at current design, 500,000 acre feet of water annually, with a maximum reservoir capacity of 1.8 million acre feet. California saved over 600,000 acre feet of water in less than three months through conservation alone after the 25% reduction in municipal water use was ordered by Governor Brown. Better solutions are out there and they cost a lot less!
  • This is not a project that moves California in the right direction for a sustainable water future.


  • Follow the directives within the new Central Valley Flood Plan update of 2017 and in the Conservation Strategy to INCREASE the implementation of SETBACK LEVEES – creating habitat, reducing flood risk and STORING WATER. Floodplains are storage. Shallow water spread over a large areas can be greater that that of new proposed reservoirs.
  • Spend this money on NEW DATA COLLECTION and MODELING tools.
  • Repair old and failing infrastructure.
  • Spend it on San Luis Reservoir so that it is safer and can hold more water south of the delta.

Status of the PROPOSED Sites Reservoir Project:

  • First investigated over 30 years ago.
  • Department of Water Resources worked on a Preliminary Administrative Draft Environmental Impact Report which was released in Dec. 2013. (Very Preliminary and Draft, answered very few specifics on impacts and the project has changed since this time.)
  • To date no Feasibility Report has been done to answer questions about reservoir operations, cost, amount of reliable water supply, specific beneficiaries, etc.
  • Sites JPA initiated EIR process in January of 2017.
  • Proposal to California Water Commission for public Proposition 1 funds is due December 2017.

This project is not defined and yet they are using a lot of public staff time, public dollars, and competing for public bond funds before we really know what this project is, how it will work, what the potential impacts and risks are, and who will benefit and how.


More about OUR WHY:

It is important that we emphasize PROPOSED as this project has been sold as if it is SHOVEL READY which just isn’t true. This project has not undergone the full process of review required under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and is now being fast-tracked to hopefully receive funds allocated in the 2014 Proposition 1 bond for “Statewide Water System Operational Improvement and Drought Preparedness Programs.”

The PROPOSED Sites Reservoir is an OFF STREAM (meaning the project does not fill, substantially, from any stream or river, but is filled by diverting water and pumping it into the valley) reservoir that has been researched for over twenty years as part of the NODOS (North of Delta Off Stream Storage) project review directive. This project was ruled out because the MEASURABLE COSTS were HIGHER THAN THE ASSUMED BENEFITS. Now, with the POTENTIAL for $2 BILLION, or more, PUBLIC DOLLARS helping to pay for the project, and HIGHER WATER PRICES, the project is back on the table. Our tax dollars have already paid for many parts of the INVESTIGATION and preliminary environmental review of this project, however, a full ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT was never done. The FACT that a FEASIBILITY STUDY was not done before the project quickly moved forward with support from water agencies and districts both north and south of the Sacramento -San Joaquin River Delta is odd and inconsistent with the usual process by which projects of this size and potential impact are reviewed and vetted before we spend further public dollars.

Of course water districts and agencies throughout the state want more water for their agricultural fields and growing cities. However, we believe that better solutions exist that can accomplish increased supply responsibly and without causing potentially catastrophic harm to our already stressed environmental systems. Water is BIG MONEY. Water has always been worth more than gold, but shhh it is a secret. If you don’t believe us then please read the next two quick examples below.

How much is your million dollar mansion worth if you can’t flush to toilet, get a drink of water out of the faucet, wash your hands, or water your landscaping? We wouldn’t want to buy it.


One of the current and major parts of the Sites Joint Power Authority is Glenn – Colusa Irrigation District (GCID), one of the largest and oldest water rights holders in California.

GCID, as currently appropriated would own 20,000 acre feet of the water that can be released for delivery from the proposed Sites Reservoir each year.

Last year an acre foot of water (enough water for a family of four for a year, or a football field flooded to a foot deep) sold for around $1,000 (some water sold for much more).


  • 1 acre foot = $1,000
  • GCID owns 20,000 acre feet
  • If, which is likely, GCID sells their water on the market they earn:
  • $1,000 $/af x 20,000 af = $20,000,000
  • GCID can earn 20 MILLION DOLLARS annually.

We are not opposed to folks earning money for rights they have. But, we are BIG PROPONENTS of the PUBLIC TRUST and believe whole heartedly that we all deserve the right to clean water and a healthy environment to enjoy. Our environment is in a nose dive and taking more water out of natural systems to fill a mud puddle on the arid west side of the Sacramento River Valley does not seem like the best way to spend our limited public dollars.

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