California’s largest new reservoir project in 50 years gains momentum

$205 million from Congress is latest boost for Sites Reservoir, but can it overcome opposition?

Colusa County is known for sprawling rice farms and almond orchards, wetlands full of migrating ducks and geese, staunch conservative politics, and the 19th-century family cattle ranch where former Gov. Jerry Brown retired five years ago.

But the windswept county in the Sacramento Valley — whose entire population of 22,000 people is just one-third of Palo Alto’s — may soon be known for something else: the largest new reservoir anywhere in California in the past 50 years.

Last weekend, President Biden signed a package of bills that included $205 million in construction funding for Sites Reservoir, a proposed $4.5 billion project planned for the rolling ranchlands west of the town of Maxwell, about 70 miles north of Sacramento.

The funding is the latest boost for the project, which has been discussed on and off since the 1950s. Plans call for Sites to be a vast off-stream reservoir 13 miles long, 4 miles wide and 260 feet deep that would store water diverted from the Sacramento River in wet years, for use by cities and farms around the state in dry years.

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