The Sites Project Authority is hoping to make substantial progress on the off-stream water storage project proposed for Colusa and Glenn counties in the new year and will look to hire a new leader at the beginning of 2020 to help with the next phase.

Project leaders conducted a comprehensive organizational assessment in 2019 and determined there was a need for an executive director to help complete Phase 2 of the project, which will include navigating the state’s complex regulatory landscape, securing project permits and finances, and completing the environmental review process.

“This new role is designed to meet the needs of the next project phase so we can get closer to the finish line,” said Fritz Durst, chairman of the Sites Project Authority, in a press release.

If built, Sites Reservoir would capture excess water in the Sacramento River during major storms to store up to 1.2 million-acre feet of water for use during drier periods. It is estimated the facility would add up to 500,000 acre-feet annually to California’s water system and increase the Sacramento Valley’s water storage capacity by up to 15 percent. 

Nearly 30 agencies across the state have provided financial backing for the reservoir to help get it to this point, in hopes of benefiting from the project once it’s built. The state has also tentatively committed $816 million in Proposition 1 funding in exchange for a portion of the available water it would provide. 

The project has been estimated to cost up to $5.1 billion to construct, but that could ultimately change as the Sites Project Authority, their participating agencies and other local, state and federal agencies are working together to “rightsize” the project to ensure its final design and operational criteria take into account a myriad of factors such as the needs of the different jurisdictions it would serve, a changing climate, and fluctuating permit conditions, among other factors. 

Jim Watson, who has served as the general manager of the project since August 2015, will serve as interim executive direction while Avery Associates conducts a search for a new executive director. Watson will also stick around once an executive director is chosen to provide senior level support during Phase 2. 

The authority expects to hire an executive director in early 2020. Project officials will be developing an update to the project’s strategic plan in the new year as well. 

“Sites Reservoir is a critical tool for managing water supplies in dry years and adapting to climate change, and we’re committed to having the leadership and expertise we need to get it built,” Durst said in a press release. 

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