A coalition of environmental and tribal groups, including Friends of the River, California Native Plant Society, AquAlliance and Save California Salmon, today submitted comments to the Sites Project Authority regarding the controversial Sites Reservoir project, currently proposed for construction in Colusa County on the west side of the Sacramento Valley.
The comments came in the wake of the California Water Commission’s unanimous vote on December 15, 2021 to move the $3 billion water storage project forward, despite more than 50,000 signatures of opposition gathered through a Save California Salmon petition and a plethora of public comments against the project at the meeting: sacramento.newsreview.com/...
Commission Chair Teresa Alvarado of San Jose, the Regional Vice President-South Bay/Central Coast for Pacific Gas and Electric Company, ran the meeting. Environmental justice and conservation groups and Tribal leaders and were not only disgusted with the decision, but upset with the poor treatment of California Tribal leaders at the meeting.
The comments also followed one of the most disastrous years for fish populations of the Central Valley and San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary during which only 2.6 percent of winter run Chinook salmon juveniles survived, the vast majority of Butte Creek spring run Chinook salmon perished before spawning and the Delta smelt became virtually extinct in the wild.
According to the coalition’s comments, “the proposed Sites Reservoir Project would harm major California waterways, destroy critical habitat for sensitive species, and undermine California’s climate change efforts. The environmental groups urge Sites Reservoir proponents to gather more data to more accurately reflect the project’s impact.”
“After review, we were disappointed to find that there was a significant amount of critical data missing from the Project’s environmental reports,” said Ron Stork, FOR’s senior policy advocate, referencing the absence of data such as a Reservoir Operations Plan, rare plant surveys, and inadequate tribal consultation in a statement. “Without that information, we are not sure how Sites Reservoir Authority can substantiate many of its claims that it will provide any benefit to the natural environment or mitigate its considerable harms.”
Located in the Sacramento Valley, Sites Reservoir would divert water from the already over-tapped Trinity and Sacramento Rivers and flood a 13,200-acre area containing cultural resources, wetlands, oak woodland habitat and dozens of endangered species, according to Stork. The stored water would then be released into the Bay Delta for additional water exports.
"The Delta is being further diminished along with its cultural and traditional resources that Tribes have utilized from the Delta for food, medicine, transportation, shelter, clothing, ceremony and traditional lifeways from the beginning of time," stated Malissa Tayaba, the Vice Chairman of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians. "Additional diversions from the Sacramento River watershed will exaggerate an already damaged and diminishing Delta ecosystem and estuary and our Tribe’s ties to our homelands.”
The coalition also raised concerns that the environmental report downplays the risk to water quality.
“The water diverted to, impounded in, and released from Sites Reservoir will include several concerning heavy metals, including mercury,” noted AquAlliance’s Water Policy Analyst Jim Brobeck. “The proponents even recognize methylmercury is of particular concern in the report by declaring they will not stock fish in the reservoir for at least 10 years.”
Project opponents also say Sites Reservoir contradicts other recent state initiatives focused on climate resilience and land conservation, according to coalition members.
“Inundating open space and storing more water above ground is counterintuitive to the direction California water management must go in the face of climate change and California’s goal to protect 30 percent of land and water by 2030,” said Isabella Langone, CNPS conservation program manager. “The significant funds proposed for Sites should instead go toward multi-benefit solutions that promote native species, sustainable water management and land conservation.”
If developed, Sites Reservoir would be owned by Sites Project Authority, an entity comprised primarily of local counties, Central Valley Project (CVP) water contractors and irrigation districts. Most potential buyers of the Sites Reservoir water sales are State Water Project (SWP) water contractors, predominantly located in Southern California.
The comments by a coalition of environmental and tribal groups couldn't have come at a more critical time for Sacramento River winter run-chinook salmon, Butte Creek spring-run Chinook salmon, Delta smelt and other imperiled fish species.
In a letter to the federal government on December 31, the CDFW revealed that only 2.6 percent of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon below Keswick Dam had survived the long, hot summer, with the rest perishing in warm water conditions.
That was after the CDFW on July 6 warned, in an update on the status of Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, that “it is possible that nearly all in-river juveniles will not survive this season” as the cold water pool in Lake Shasta is depleted earlier than modeled because of increased downstream water deliveries during the hot weather: www.dailykos.com/…
The juvenile fish kill this year was particularly tragic, considering that an estimated 9,956 winter run Chinooks returned to the river this year, producing a total of 31,128,320 eggs, according to the CDFW. The potential of a relatively robust run was lost, due to the diversion of water to irrigators in the spring of 2021.
On Butte Creek, over 14,000 of the estimated 18,000 to 20,000 adult spring Chinook salmon perished before spawning in low, warm conditions because PG&E acted too late to release colder flows on the creek.
Finally, the fourth year in a row, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has reported zero Delta smelt at its index stations throughout the Delta in the 2021 Fall Midwater Trawl Survey.
In a December 21st memo, James White, CDFW environmental scientist wrote, “The 2021 abundance index for Delta Smelt was 0 and was tied with 2018 through 2020 for the lowest in FMWT history. This is a continuation of a pattern of low indices that occurred in recent years.”
“No Delta Smelt were collected from any stations during our survey months of September- December. An absence of Delta Smelt catch in the FMWT is consistent among other surveys in the estuary,” White noted.
As bad as the situation is with imperiled spring and winter-run Chinook salmon and Delta smelt now, opponents of Sites Reservoir believe the project would make an untenable situation even worse.
It must be noted that Commission Chair Teresa Alvarado of San Jose is Regional Vice President-South Bay/Central Coast for Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the company that is largely responsible for the fish kill by not releasing enough cold water from its hydroelectric facilities on Butte Creek to keep the majority of salmon alive until they spawned.
For more information about Sites Reservoir, go to: www.dailykos.com/...
Water Commission Member Biographies
Teresa Alvarado, of San Jose, is Regional Vice President-South Bay/Central Coast for Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Teresa previously served as Chief of Local Impact at SPUR, deputy administrative officer for the Santa Clara Valley Water District, and as a State Senate President pro Tempore appointee to the Bay Conservation and Development Commission where she chaired the committee dedicated to developing the agency’s first Bay Plan Amendment on Environmental Justice and Social Equity. Ms. Alvarado holds a Master of Science degree in civil and environmental engineering from Tufts University, a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental studies and a Minor degree in technical writing from San Jose State University. She is an American Leadership Forum-Silicon Valley Senior Fellow and a founding member of the Board of Directors of Parks California.
Matthew Swanson, of Turlock, is a California farmer and CEO of Associated Feed, Virtus Nutrition, and Nutrius Products, manufacturers of organic, non-GMO, and conventional feed products serving the dairy, cattle, swine, and poultry industries. His other entrepreneurial endeavors include leading the development of software and application of data analytics to improve agricultural and environmental efficiencies and help achieve net zero carbon dairy farms. Mr. Swanson also serves as Chairman of Riser House Entertainment, a full-service label and music publishing company in Nashville, Tennessee.
Samantha Arthur, of Sacramento, has been Working Lands Program Director at Audubon California since 2019, where she has held multiple positions since 2014, including Conservation Project Director and Conservation Project Manager. She was a Strategic Planning and Policy Intern at the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts from 2013 to 2014 and a Land Protection Specialist at Big Sur Land Trust from 2010 to 2012. Arthur earned a Master of Science degree in Environmental Science and Management from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology and Environmental Studies from Whitman College.
Daniel Curtin, of Sacramento, has served as director for the California Conference of Carpenters since 2001 and previously held the same position from 1992 to 1999. From 1999 to 2001, he served as chief deputy director for the Department of Industrial Relations. Prior to that, Curtin was a legislative advocate for the California Conference of Carpenters. He serves on the State Compensation Insurance Fund Board of Directors, the Economic Development Commission, and the Industrial Welfare Commission.
Kimberly Gallagher, of Davis, has been Farm Operations Manager at Erdman Farms since 2014 and Owner and Operator of Gallagher Farming Company since 2009. She was a Science Teacher for the Davis Unified School District from 2012 to 2014 and an Independent Study Teacher for the Elk Grove Unified School District from 2004 to 2011. Gallagher is a director of the Colusa Glenn Subwatershed Program and the California Rice Commission. She earned a Master of Arts degree in Christian leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Saint Mary’s College.
Alex Makler, of Berkeley, is Senior Vice President, West for Calpine Corporation, a large independent power producer with generation facilities throughout the United States and Canada. He joined Calpine in 1999 as Associate Counsel and has had roles of increasing responsibility in legal and business management functions. He has substantial experience in infrastructure project development, construction, environmental permitting, Federal and state-level electricity and gas regulation, commercial contracting, and finance. Prior to Calpine, Makler worked for private law firms in New York, Houston, and San Francisco. He has both a J.D. and a B.A. (Political Economy) from the University of California, Berkeley.
Jose Solorio, of Santa Ana, was raised in a farmworker family in the Central Valley and knows that water nourishes our bodies, preserves our environment and our fuels our economy. He has been a Government Affairs Officer at Moulton Niguel Water District since 2018. In prior roles, Commissioner Solorio was a Santa Ana City Council Member from 2016 to 2020 and from 2000 to 2006, Senior Policy Advisor at Nossaman LLP from 2014 to 2017 and a California State Assemblymember for the 69th District from 2006 to 2012. Solorio earned a Master of Public Policy degree in government and business policy from Harvard University and a Bachelor's degree from UC Irvine.
Fern Steiner, of San Diego, has been an Attorney at Smith, Steiner, Vanderpool APC since 1987 and a Shareholder there since 1993. She was an Attorney at Richard D. Prochazka APC from 1984 to 1987 and an Attorney at Karmel and Rosenfeld from 1977 to 1984. Steiner is a member of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors and a trustee for San Diego Youth Services. She also served as director of the Metropolitan Water District from 2009 to 2019. She earned a Juris Doctor degree from John Marshall Law School.