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California Bay Delta water (Photo: USGS.gov)

California Has a Long History of Squandering its Precious Water

Reader asks ‘Whatever happened to the reservoirs that the residents of California approved to be built in 2014?’

By Katy Grimes, June 1, 2024 2:55 am

Gov. Gavin Newsom is bragging about more than $140 million coming from the Biden-Harris Administration to support “critical water storage projects here in California, including the Sites Reservoir.” This is curious since voters already approved Proposition 1 in 2014 together with $7.12 billion in general obligation bonds for the Sites Reservoir.

“We’ll continue building more, faster to prepare for a hotter, drier future,” Newsom says now, after a record winter snowpack and heavy rain year, resulting in Lake Shasta filled to the brim with water.

But Newsom blames “severe, climate-fueled drought” for water shortages, when it’s our government: California sends the first 50% of its winter runoff out to the ocean for environmental purposes; the second 50% goes to agriculture (40%) and urban use (10%).

One Twitter/X reader responded accordingly:

“It dryer because you never built any water storage. It’s a government made drought.”

“Whatever happened to the reservoirs that the residents of California approved to be built in 2014, over 10 years ago?” a California Globe reader asked. Indeed, and what about the $30 billion in voter approved bonds since year 2000?

The elusive Sites Reservoir

Proposition 1, the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014, authorized the $7.12 billion in general obligation bonds for state water supply infrastructure projects: public water system improvements, surface and groundwater storage, drinking water protection, water recycling and advanced water treatment technology, water supply management and conveyance, wastewater treatment, drought relief, emergency water supplies, and ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration.

The problem is that of the $7.12 billion, $2.7 billion dollars was specifically designated for new water storage projects, but thus far, hasn’t been used as designated. As the California Department of Water Resources bond oversight shows, no water storage has been added, but ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration projects have been completed.

According to Globe contributor and water expert Don Wright, That’s because “half of the $2.7 billion for storage has a string attached; it has to benefit the ecosystem. No strings about benefiting feeding people by irrigating crops.”

Since year 2000, California voters have approved eight water bonds totaling more than $30 billion, according the the Legislative Analyst’s Office. But the state bureaucrats empowered to get these projects built have to deal with endless litigation and constantly changing permitting requirements from dozens of local, state and federal agencies, I reported in 2021. Instead, the “successful bureaucrats keep their jobs by conditioning people to think it’s supposed to take 30-40 years to build a reservoir, or repair an aqueduct,” one water expert told the Globe. “They’re dead wrong. But they’re in charge.”

There are seven projects designated with Prop. 1 (2014) funding that would provide 2.77 million acre-feet of water storage, along with the $7.5 billion bond which dedicated $2.7 billion for the new water storage projects.

Temperance Flat Dam is a proposed dam project on the San Joaquin River west of Auberry, California. The dam’s main purpose would be to supplement storage capacity in the upper San Joaquin River basin. The Sites Reservoir is a proposed offstream reservoir project west of Colusa in the Sacramento Valley.

Here’s what most California residents don’t know – California politicians and bureaucrats have been discussing the Sites Reservoir for more than 70 years – since 1950.

The Water Education blog reports:

First conceived in the 1950s, Sites Reservoir emerged in the 1980s as part of a proposed second stage of the State Water Project, but the plan was abandoned.

Interest in the reservoir renewed in the 2000s as the frequency and severity of droughts grew under climate change and declines in native fish populations led to tighter restrictions on exporting water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Since 2017, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s board of directors has authorized $5.7 million in investments to access as much as 50,000 acre-feet of annual water yield from the Sites project.

In 2018, the project received $816 million from the Proposition 1 water bond and secured a $449 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As of July 2023, $233 million in federal contributions had been made to the project.

Unserious politicians love the bond money, but not the infrastructure projects (eg: High speed Rail).

Last May 2023, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he was seeking to fast track water, storage and clean energy projects delayed by environmental lawsuits and the byzantine  permitting process. While this should be a great move, Democrats and Newsom approved and implemented the policies impeding these important projects for decades.

While the White House beckons Newsom as he tries to appear moderate, the more pressing question is Why not remove the environmental impediments to building all water storage, water delivery, and housing projects if it is so important in these cherry-picked projects?

The biggest barrier is the California Environmental Quality Act to building nearly anything on a large scale in California.

And many experts say it is the most destructive impediment into California’s housing crisis and water storage crisis. There is a reason CEQA is called “the tort lawyer full employment act.”

However, when Democrats want a project done, they exempt the state from CEQA. Case-in-point: In 2016 the Legislature approved a CEQA exemption to streamline the $1.3 billion project to restore, renovate or replace the existing State Capitol Building Annex.

“CEQA is truly the third rail of California politics,” the Pacific Research Institute’s Kerry Jackson said. “Lawmakers fear touching it in any meaningful way will kill their careers. But when it suits them, they are perfectly willing to bend the rail.”

Politicians choose to impose or bypass CEQA requirements when it is politically expedient for them. They bend over backwards for politically favored projects. But they have no problem killing important infrastructure projects, housing projects, highway widening projects, while crooning environmental prose.

Newsom’s announcement last year on construction of the Delta water tunnel under the San Joaquin River Delta, and the Sites Reservoir, was couched to make it sound as if he’s Gavin the Benevolent, rather than a manipulative politician.

Newsom has been talking – and only talking – about these two projects since he was elected governor in 2018. In 2022, he announced his Water Supply Strategy in which he endorsed the Sites Project “and even had the temerity to suggest environmentalist obstruction is stopping as many good projects as bad ones,” Ed Ring reported at the Globe.

Newsom resurrected the massive tunnel project – with only one tunnel, which many say will still destroy the Delta. “Some of our favorite wineries, and all of the Delta agriculture could end up under water and/or the land rendered useless if Gov. Jerry Brown’s unnecessary Delta Tunnels project is actually built,” I wrote in 2018 in an expose on the Delta Tunnels project.

California voters have passed more than $30 billion in water bonds over the years to build additional water storage and two new reservoirs, which would accomplish more water delivery to Southern California without destroying the Delta, its inhabitants, and its prime farmland.

As Edward Ring said in the Globe, “Environmentalists can’t have it both ways. Either we’re going to have massive atmospheric storms that will require massive systems to capture storm runoff, or we’re going to enter a period of chronic droughts where there isn’t enough water no matter what we do.”

Thus the need for the Sites Reservoir designed to achieve improved water supply reliability for agricultural, urban and environmental uses; increased anadromous and endemic fish populations; and improved environmental and drinking water quality in the Delta.

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11 thoughts on “California Has a Long History of Squandering its Precious Water

  1. California democrats don’t “do” infrastructure. The prefer to give the money away to their cronies. The bonds are used to pad the state budget if they haven’t been thrown into the maw of the public sector.

  2. Your article only proves the old saying that “whiskey is made for drinking and that water is made for fighting”. Merely mentioning money is Newsoms way of attempting to calm the masses that action is taking place while it’s really not. Earlier this year Scott Wiener (D) San Francisco introduced SB 1227 which would eliminate CEQA regulations on renovation projects in downtown San Francisco for a period of 10 years. They even know that CEQA is the regulation place where big projects end up languishing or even dying. While I do not support Mr. Wiener politically or morally, I do support this legislation with added language that would give a governor an opportunity to add other areas of the state to this exemption.

  3. Since agriculture demands most of the water in California, there is only one solution. Reduce demand for water from agriculture. Vineyards would be a good place to start. People really shouldn’t be drinking alcoholic beverages anyway. It is a luxury that we really don’t need and wine can be imported from other countries much more easily than water. Vineyard land could be converted back to nature the way it was and you don’t need SEQA. More rain water would be captured on this natural land to help revive rivers that support the salmon. This sure beats building more water reservoirs that have been on the books since 1950. Problem solved.

    1. Wrong. Read the article. Fricking fish like the Delta Smelt demand most of the water in California. California sends the first 50% of its winter runoff straight out to the ocean! It’s ridiculous! The solution is for your corrupt Democrat masters to build more water storage facilities instead of stealing taxpayer money that was supposed to build more dams and instead siphoning it off to enrich themselves and their cronies for their pet projects like Newsom’s train to nowhere.

    2. Oh look, another nanny-state Democrat progressive showed up to tell us how to live our lives…
      No thanks no fear MF Democrat…

  4. The feds have a 7.5 billion dollar program to install a grand total of 8 EV chargers. All these programs are purely about the graft. There is Zero intention of actually building any water storage at all.

  5. Just call Newsome out for being the failure he is on this issue. Then do the same for any other matter that is important to the people of California. I can’t honestly think of anything he has accomplished as governor that has improved my family’s lives. Almost six years under his leadership. I think it would be reasonable to call him a pathetic failure.

  6. To clarify, CA has an abundance of water. The CA average rainfall is 200M acre feet. The problem is our reservoir capacity is only 37M acre feet and there is substantial competition for that stored water. We were supposed to add more water storage as the population increased, but it did not happen, so the result is a manmade water shortage in a state with abundant water. Current average water use in CA is actually about 50% water uncaptured in the environment … captured water use is about 30.5% environmental use, 15% agricultural use, 4.5% urban use. (All numbers from the CA Dept of Water Resources.)

  7. And “toilet to tap” reclamation projects should be strictly prohibited from receiving state bond funding…
    Capture and PRESERVE the Good Lord’s rainwater!!!
    Reject man-made effluent recovery projects! I’m looking at YOU, Veolia., and your apple-eating Alice in Wonderland teevee commercials….

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