A low-interest rural development loan from the United States Department of Agriculture could greatly help water delivery efforts as part of the larger Sites Reservoir Project in northern California. The money will be used to connect the two key conveyance systems already in place, making water deliveries south of the Delta easier to achieve.
In a recent exclusive interview, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Western Farm Press that the low-interest loan will help fund projects associated with the off-stream storage site in western Colusa County.
Federal efforts to help California upgrade its aging water infrastructure and address a shortage of agricultural water all over the state is one of the promises President Trump made to California farmers, Perdue told Western Farm Press.
"The USDA is putting up almost $500 million in rural development funds," Perdue said.
Jim Watson, general manager of the Sites Project Authority, said the USDA stepped up with the rural development funds after negotiations between the Sites Authority and USDA determined that connecting the Tehama Colusa Canal and the Glenn Colusa Canal would have far-reaching benefits for rural communities, not to mention an ability to help farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.
That connection will aid in the delivery of water to the San Joaquin Valley from the Central Valley Project and could help relieve pressure from the State Water Project to sometimes make environmental releases, Watson said.
Perdue chided California for its wasteful water policies that allow water to be wasted solely in the name of environmental protection. He called the policies that allow countless millions of acre feet of water to flow out to sea for no other stated reason than to protect the environment a "misappropriation of the Endangered Species Act if we start favoring those kinds of things over human consumption and agricultural production."
Watson says the Sites Reservoir Project is still years away from being permitted, and another seven or so years after that from being complete. Because the California Water Commission gave the Sites Project less than what it needed from the voter-approved Proposition 1, Watson says discussions are under way to construct a smaller project with the idea that if future funds become available, storage capacity could be increased. Though the project is planned to contain about 1.8 million acre feet of water in a small valley west of Maxwell, Calif., Watson says they have the funding now to build a 1.3 million acre foot facility, pending permit approval.
The USDA funds will help fund a facility to connect two existing water conveyance systems in the Sacramento Valley. The Tehama-Colusa and Glenn-Colusa canals could be linked in an effort that, absent Sites Reservoir, would still allow for easier management of water between the two systems, particularly during drought conditions.
"If we never built Sites, creating the intertie between the two canals could help us exchange water between the two systems," Watson said.
The hope however is to build Sites Reservoir and eventually aid in water deliveries that have been constrained by onerous environmental restrictions.
Watson says it may be overly optimistic to expect permitting for the reservoir project to be complete by 2022. Repayment of the low-interest loan would come from water customers connected to the project, he said.