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California Republicans push back on Gov. Newsom's plans to store water

The Sites Reservoir said if it were operational in the last ten days, they could have saved enough water for 2 million homes, businesses, and farms.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Vice President Kamala Harris was in California Friday visiting a groundwater recharge center to talk about the state and national efforts to store water for the dry season.

Water storage has been at the top of minds for lawmakers as the state was hit with back to back storms. 

Governor Gavin Newsom's press office sent out an email Thursday titled, “Five ways California is storing water from winter storms. A few hours later, Republicans sent out an email saying, “Five ways California is failing to store water from winter storms.”

Republican Senator Brian Dahle posted on social media saying the state should be doing more to store the water to use in dry times.

Director of the California Department of Water Resources Karla Nemeth told reporters the state does need better infrastructure to capture the water, which she said the state is investing in. 

"Yes, we need to invest in our infrastructure," Nemeth said Jan. 4.  

In an email Thursday, Newsom said the state invested $8.6 billion over the last two budget cycles alone to expand groundwater recharge capacity, like the site Harris visited on Friday, the Delta Tunnel, which will help store excess water and divert it to Southern California, and other projects. 

So what is the biggest complaint from Republicans? 

"We spend the money to do all the work but we never actually get the project," Dahle said. "That's the point that all my five points are trying to bring out."

He said the seven water storage projects voters approved funding for back in 2014 are taking too long to complete, specifically the Sites Reservoir.

"Let's fast track this, just like we do for sports arenas," Dahle said. 

The Sites Reservoir put out an analysis that said if the reservoir were operational over just the last two weeks, they could have stored water for more than 2 million farms, businesses, and people. 

"Which we know based on last year, is absolutely needed, badly needed,” Director of the Sites Reservoir Jerry Brown said. 

Why does it take so long to build?

"We're currently in the process of securing subcritical permits, including our water rights, doing some engineering field evaluations to confirm our construction cost estimates, and lining up our financing," Brown said. "Those are all parts of what are necessary to actually construct the project of this magnitude, and I'm happy to report we're making great progress."

Newsom created a strike team last year to expedite the process, and Brown said it’s about to pay off. 

Newsom’s office sent a statement Friday explaining how the strike team has helped: 

  • To support seven locally-driven water storage projects funded under Prop. 1, the Administration has established an interagency strike team and funded positions to facilitate permitting and development of the contracts. 
  • The Water Commission awarded six of the projects early funding totaling $118 million and has given all projects an inflationary boost that totaled $100 million. 
  • The projects collectively will add 2.7 million acre-feet of storage capacity – about three times as much water as Folsom Lake can hold. Four of those projects involve groundwater storage, one would construct a new off-stream reservoir, and two others would enlarge existing dams. 
  • The first of these seven projects is expected to begin construction this year in south Sacramento County.

They also explained that the water storage projects that are currently in place helped save trillions of gallons. 

"Trillions of gallons of water from the recent storms are currently recharging groundwater basins throughout the state. The state’s two largest reservoirs have gained a combined 1,620,000 acre-feet of water, roughly enough to provide water to 5.6 million households for year," Newsom's office said.

WATCH RELATED: California hit by heavy rain, but is the drought over? (Jan. 2023).


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