California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot says the Sites Reservoir Project is “on a pretty good pathway” for advancing through the environmental permitting process.

Speaking at the Agri-Pulse Food & Ag Issues Summit in Sacramento last week, Crowfoot explained that the Department of Fish and Wildlife within his agency has been evaluating potential impacts that the reservoir proposal could have on endangered and threatened species and its adherence to the California Environmental Quality Act.

The next big step is for the Sites project authority to address any complaints from water right holders at the State Water Resources Control Board—a “typically slow process.” Crowfoot's Department of Water Resources is working with the Sites team to expedite that process, enabling the board to more quickly provide a water right to the project. Crowfoot has been holding “deep dive” meetings to help all seven Proposition 1 projects keep to the timeline and limit risks.

In planning for groundwater recharge, Crowfoot said that some projects—“but I’ll argue not enough”—will be up and running if the state has a wet winter this year. He told Agri-Pulse there are far more opportunities to capture groundwater than currently being realized.

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DWR is distributing resources to irrigation districts for infrastructure needs and helping to identify the best soils for percolating into aquifers. The department is also working with the water board to streamline the process for adjudicating water right issues for downstream users. The “big moonshot” goal, he added, should be increasing underground water storage exponentially in the coming years.

On the topic of voluntary agreements, the administration is moving forward with habitat restoration projects in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta, despite the environmental community being “pretty dubious about this approach,” according to Crowfoot. His agency is working to cut the red tape on permitting for a list of priority habitats and to implement new state funding for the projects, in coordination with voluntary reductions in delivery allocations among water contractors.

He expects to convert a term sheet released in March into a legal agreement within the coming weeks. The water board will then analyze the agreement for scientific adequacy before granting approval.

Watch videos of the full summit at