Two members of California's congressional delegation on Wednesday called for building a new reservoir north of Sacramento, displaying bipartisan agreement on one potential solution to California's long-term water problems.
Democratic Rep. John Garamendi and Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa held a news conference near the location of the proposed reservoir to announce their bill. It calls for accelerating an existing federal feasibility study to authorize construction of the Sites Reservoir in a valley near Maxwell, about an hour's drive north of the state capital. They hope construction can start by 2015.
Sites is the largest of the proposed reservoir projects being discussed for California. With a storage capacity of 1.9 million acre feet, it would be about the same size as the San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos.
The congressmen said that in times of drought, the reservoir could be tapped for more than 1 million acre feet of water. That would be enough to supply San Francisco's population 10 times over, according to the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based nonprofit that focuses on water and environmental research.
The bill would not guarantee federal funding for the reservoir, which the lawmakers say will cost between $2 billion and $3 billion, although they said some federal money could be available later. Likely sources of money are local water districts that will benefit from the reservoir and a state bond that is being negotiated for the November ballot.
Garamendi and LaMalfa said such water-storage projects are crucial for supplying California's farms and its growing population, now at 38 million people.
"There's a world of hurt in these fields and in the orchards around us because we failed in the past to prepare for the inevitable drought," Garamendi said, gesturing toward parched ground and empty fields.
Some groups question the value of costly reservoir projects that redirect water from fish and other wildlife. Peter Gleick, director of the Pacific Institute, said money would be better spent on water conservation and improving the state's existing storage.