Pre-empting enviro blitz, Newsom OKs streamlining approvals for Calif.’s first new dam in 50 years

California has not had a major water storage project since the 1970s, in large part due to burgeoning environmental regulations.

The first reservoir in California in nearly 50 years is now on the fastrack for completion. 

Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom utilized the state’s new infrastructure streamlining bill to have Sites Reservoir avoid years of delays from environmental legal challenges. 


The backstory: The new law that Newsom used is Senate Bill 149, which he signed into law in July. 

  • SB 149 sets a limit of 270 days for courts to deal with legal challenges under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). 
  • When he signed it, Newsom said it was to take advantage of $180 billion in state, local and federal infrastructure funds over the next decade. 

Driving the news: Sites Reservoir is expected to cost $4.5 billion and will be located in northern California, about 70 miles north of Sacramento. 

  • This is the first project that Newsom is qualifying under SB 149. 
  • Sites Reservoir will capture water from the Sacramento River and have a capacity of 1.5 million acre-feet. It’s an off-stream reservoir, meaning it would have water directed to it from the Sacramento River instead of damming it. 

What they’re saying: “We’re cutting red tape to build more faster,” Newsom said in a statement. “These are projects that will address our state’s biggest challenges faster, and the Sites Reservoir is fully representative of that goal – making sure Californians have access to clean drinking water and making sure we’re more resilient against future droughts.” 

  • Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher applauded Monday’s decision. 
  • “After five years of inaction, it’s good to see Newsom finally act to create more water storage,” Gallagher said in a statement. “Californians have suffered under these absurd and unnecessary regulations for too long. We need to expand on the reforms from SB 149 so housing and wildfire safety projects can get the same relief.”
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