Dry irrigation ditch

A dry irrigation ditch filled with trash and tumbleweeds paints an epic picture of decades of inaction by political leaders to upgrade California's water infrastructure.

Can Sites Reservoir get honest hearing?

If there’s one good thing that could come out of California’s epic drought it might be evident in the recent bipartisan bill to build a new reservoir in Northern California.

Two Northern California congressmen joined together for the benefit of their California constituents by authoring legislation to build Sites Reservoir, an off-stream storage facility on the western edge of the Sacramento Valley, about halfway between Sacramento and Red Bluff.

If built, the facility will hold about 1.9 million acre feet of water. The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $2.3 billion and $3.2 billion. That’s less than 3 percent the cost of the proposed high speed rail project slated to roll over a good chunk of some of the most productive farmland in the world, but I digress.

Years of economic difficulties throughout the United States may have eased in some locations, but California continues to suffer. While some try to cite comparisons to other facets of the state’s economy under the premise that agriculture is not that important here, one need look no farther than the tiny Ag communities of the Central Valley and listen to small-town mayors as they shed tears over their communities.

One of those small-town mayors told me recently that there seems to be a growing groundswell in the Latino community, which heavily populates cities like Firebaugh, Mendota, Los Banos, Kerman and others. These folks are rightfully upset over state decisions to stop irrigating the farmland upon which they work.

Maybe that’s what it will take to lubricate California’s gridlocked political machine and get it moving once again for the benefit of all. Maybe its stories about farmworkers, who can’t feed their families, can’t pay rent, can’t buy clothes for their children and can’t otherwise pay their bills because their employers have no irrigation water to plant their crops.

Let’s hope something reaches lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington, because stories of crime rates up over 100 percent and unemployment rates north of 50 percent have failed to spur lawmakers to do the right thing.

I wasn’t at the press event in Northern California where Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, introduced their Sites Reservoir bill. One can only hope that their efforts are truly genuine, that they can convince a majority of their peers that this is a good idea, and ultimately get this signed by the President. Do you believe in miracles?

If they are successful, maybe they can school the rest of the California congressional delegation – House and Senate alike – to put away their daggers and honestly work together on water issues and other challenges that continue to block progress and stifle success in California. One would think that after the President’s visit to drought-parched California that he would have some indication of just how bad things are here and be willing to put his political clout towards addressing California’s challenges in a positive manner.


Follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette.


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