Not only is there a maze of rivers and aquifers and channels and pipes and dams and tunnels…there is also an intricate system of laws and regulations that local, state and federal agencies deploy to protect and preserve this life-sustaining natural resource.
A complicating factor is that California is by-and-large an arid state. Much of our water comes in the form of snowmelt that originates high in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and Shasta Cascade regions. But the highest demand for water is in the Bay Area and Southern California. Add climate change into the equation—meaning a shift from a snow-supplied system to a rainfall-capture system—and the careful balance becomes more tenuous.
California has two primary sources of water: surface water from rivers, lakes and streams; and groundwater from underground aquifers. There are others sources, including desalination and recycled water, which provide small amounts of water supply locally.
Groundwater has been managed on a local level historically. Implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act will bring cohesion and data to the groundwater system to help ensure long-term sustainability.
The state’s primary surface water system is comprised of the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. Surface water is captured and stored in reservoirs and later released to meet water supply, flood control, water quality and environmental needs.
California’s primary source of water comes from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the form of spring runoff, and is delivered through a complicated system of rivers, canals, and dams that work in conjunction to supply the state’s cities, towns, and farms. Our water system is an engineering feat that has fed a growing and thriving economy. But, climate change has resulted in conditions that our current system is incapable of handling – less snow, shorter, more intense storms, and increased salinity due to sea level rise.
Sites Reservoir will help the state adapt to climate change by capturing and storing runoff supplies for use in dry and critical years. Between October 2015 and April 2016, over 1,000,000 acre-feet could have been diverted to Sites Reservoir, filling 60% of its capacity in one year alone.
The project will also help recovering ecosystems by providing up to half of its annual water supplies to environmental flows, which will improve water quality for endangered fish, reduce salinity levels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta), and improve Pacific Flyway habitat for migratory birds and other native species.
Sites Reservoir would relieve stress on the state’s water system, allowing other reservoirs to hold more water later into the summer months. The added flexibility Sites Reservoir offers would effectively increase the total storage in Northern California by about more than 500,000 acre-feet of water.
By creating a new source of water, and more flexibility in the system, Sites Reservoir has the potential to help California succeed at implementing 21st century water solutions—to meet human AND environmental needs.
- Groundwater sustainability requires effective groundwater recharge. Sites Reservoir can help store and then move water where and when it’s needed for recharge projects.
- Salmon need cold water to survive in the late summer and fall. If water for ag and Delta water quality came from Sites Reservoir, cold water pools in Shasta and Oroville could be preserved.
- If Sites Reservoir had been in place in 2016, about 500,000 acre-feet could have been captured and stored—a much-needed boost to overall state water supplies in the middle of our historic drought.
- Climate change is creating a new normal: less snow-pack and flashier rainfall. Sites Reservoir is ideally located to maximize the capture and storage of rain.