Canal project complements Sites Reservoir

Issue Date: December 5, 2018
By Christine Souza
California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson, right, discusses California water issues with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who toured the North State last week and announced a $449 million loan to help fund construction of a water intertie project to increase water flexibility in the Sacramento Valley. The intertie would connect the existing Tehama-Colusa Canal and Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District main canal.
Photo/Christine Souza
Almond grower Rory Crowley of Chico, left, discusses California water issues during a meeting with federal officials at Strain Ranches in Arbuckle. Others at the table include, left to right, Grimmway Farms President/CEO Jeff Huckaby, CFBF President Jamie Johansson, Assistant Army Secretary R.D. James, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Photo/Christine Souza

A project to increase water management flexibility in Northern California will benefit from a $449 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the loan last week during a visit to the site in Colusa County where the Maxwell Water Intertie would be built. The canal would connect the Tehama-Colusa Canal with the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District main canal, increasing water management flexibility and improving water supply resiliency.

"The intertie between the two canals will allow us to move water, frankly in both directions between the rivers and the canals and the Sites Reservoir, which will be a huge water storage facility for California," Perdue said. "This is an amazing project that has so many benefits, not only for agriculture, but for human drinking water as well as the environment."

The low-interest loan administered by USDA would go to the Sites Project Authority. Authority General Manager Jim Watson said the intertie will connect the two existing regional canal systems, adding that it "can operate independently as a standalone facility to provide benefits for agriculture and rural communities."

"When operated in conjunction with the larger Sites Reservoir, the benefits expand not only to the Sacramento Valley, but into the San Joaquin Valley and to Southern California," Watson said. "This project is a major step in helping to solve some of the water issues here."

The proposed Sites Reservoir is an offstream facility that would store water from the Sacramento River during winter months and is expected to add 500,000 acre-feet annually to the state's water system. Earlier this year, the California Water Commission made a tentative commitment of $816 million in Proposition 1 bond funding for the expected $5.1 billion project.

For the announcement, Perdue was joined by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Rickey "R.D." James, plus elected officials and farmers.

California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson, who attended the announcement, thanked the federal agency leaders for traveling to California and showing local agriculturalists that their voices are being heard in Washington, D.C.

"We have long known in agriculture that if we don't properly manage our resources we quickly create liabilities, whether it's floods, drought or forest fires," Johansson said. "This investment in the Maxwell Water Intertie enhances water management that will make a positive difference to rural and urban Californians throughout the state."

Zinke said the intertie project would increase system flexibility.

"(The Maxwell Water Intertie) is for farming, municipalities, wildlife and recreation; it really is flexible and appropriate," Zinke said. "The good thing about California is God gave you a lot of water, but it needs to be distributed a little more, because demands for water are going to increase and having storage will help to move it around and be flexible. I think Sites Reservoir and the interchange, and (raising) Shasta, those three projects will make a significant difference."

The loan from the USDA, Watson said, is contingent on the project completing environmental documents, permits and designs before money is awarded; he said he expects that to happen by late 2022. Money to repay the loan would come from rural and urban water users, he said.

After visiting the intertie site, the government officials and lawmakers met with farmers and others as part of a roundtable discussion at Strain Ranches, a pistachio, almond and walnut facility in Arbuckle.

"We're here to hear the issues—regulatory issues, trade, labor—we need to know what's working, what's not working, what we can do about it and ideas," Perdue said. "Many of the best ideas come from folks like you who have to operate within the bounds of regulations and rules."

On the topic of water regulations, almond grower Rory Crowley of Chico emphasized the need for research to create better groundwater modeling systems, noting that the modeling is used to make regulatory decisions about water.

"One of the biggest needs right now is having better modeling capabilities," Crowley said. "We need some sort of independent, third-party modeling system. They are making decisions based on science that is not there."

Zinke responded that "science should not have an agenda behind it and should be transparent."

Former CFBF President Paul Wenger of Modesto urged the Cabinet members to find solutions to immigration issues that address immigrant agricultural employees who he described as law-abiding, taxpaying residents.

Perdue responded that "the president wants a legal workforce available to agriculture. He knows how important that is. You are not going to do everything with robots, and we've got to recognize that."

The agriculture secretary also discussed retaliatory trade tariffs from China and other nations that have slowed exports of U.S. agricultural products.

"The ball is in their court," Perdue said, adding that he believes "this will be resolved leader to leader."

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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