California Drought Water Storage

File - This March 19, 2014 file photo shows horses grazing in the Sites Valley, the location of a proposed reservoir, near Maxwell, Calif. On Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, Republican and Democratic lawmakers made their case for how much money should be dedicated to increasing California's water supply at the site of a proposed reservoir in what is now a scenic agricultural valley north of Sacramento. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file)

When it comes to public money for water storage projects, there's just not enough to go around.

The California Water Commission, which will ultimately select the storage projects that will be funded by the water bond voters passed in November, recently completed a survey to gauge the level of interest for storage projects.

In all, 147 potential projects responded seeking more than $6 billion in public funding. The water bond carved out $2.7 billion for funding water storage projects, which means that many of the projects will not receive the full amount of funding requested, said Ajay Goyal, manager of the statewide infrastructure investigations branch for the Department of Water Resources.

"There could be some heavy competition," Goyal said.

Included in this list of potential storage projects is Sites Reservoir, the Northern California storage project that has been in the works for decades.

Sites Reservoir is one of the largest storage projects proposed, and could cost around $3.5 billion. The water bond can fund a maximum of 50 percent of that cost, although, given the competition, that appears unlikely, said Thad Bettner, general manager of the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District.

But Bettner is still confident that Sites will be awarded a portion of the bond money, because about 75 percent of the projects that responded to the survey don't meet the criteria for receiving funding.

In order to qualify for funding, the water storage project must provide public benefits and half of those must be ecosystem improvements. Currently, 64, or 57 percent, of the projects make that claim.

Even more telling is that only 23 percent of the projects claim to provide improvements to the Delta ecosystem or its tributaries, which is also a requirement to receive bond funding.

"We're very optimistic about moving this project forward," Bettner said. "Even with reduced funding from the water commission, there is still likely a group of people out there that want to invest in new storage."

But before project leaders can apply for the bond funding, the water commission has to set the guidelines and criteria for the application, and Bettner has urged the water commission to speed up that process.

The main goal of the project, which could hold between 1.3 and 1.8 million acre-feet, depending on the final plan, is to increase the flexibility of the state's complex water system.

Sites could store water during the winter and spring, when high flows from unregulated stream and tributaries below Shasta Dam often escape into the ocean.

This year, one of the driest on record, about 400,000 acre-feet could have been diverted and stored in Sites, Bettner said.

That stored water could then meet whatever need crops up.

It could supplement Lake Shasta deliveries to keep its cold water in storage for use later in the summer, when water temperatures rise. It could release water to flush the Delta of saltwater when river flows dwindle, Bettner said.

A portion of the project's water, up to 340,000 acre-feet, would also be used for agricultural, municipal and industrial water deliveries, according to a report by the Sites Joint Powers Authority.

CONTACT reporter Andrew Creasey at 749-4780 and on Twitter @AD_Creasey.

Fiorina stokes fight over who’s to blame

Bloomberg News (TNS)

The water wars have begun.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina is blaming "overzealous liberal environmentalists" for the water shortages caused by California's ongoing drought. In a radio interview earlier in the week with Glenn Beck, and in a Tuesday op-ed in Time, Fiorina made the case that the water rationing instituted by Gov. Jerry Brown could have been avoided. The problem, Fiorina says, is that the state has allowed environmental activists to influence policy.

"Specifically, these policies have resulted in the diversion of more than 300 billion gallons of water away from farmers in the Central Valley and into the San Francisco Bay in order to protect the Delta smelt, an endangered fish that environmentalists have continued to champion at the expense of Californians. This water is simply being washed out to sea, instead of being channeled to the people who desperately need it," Fiorina wrote in Time. "While they have watched this water wash out to sea, liberals have simultaneously prevented the construction of a single new reservoir or a single new water conveyance system over decades."

Environmental groups staunchly disagree, saying weather patterns are to blame. "We simply don't have rain or snow pack and are suffering the worst California drought since water agencies and weather trackers started keeping records," Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club's California chapter, said.

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