Plans approved to raise B.F. Sisk Dam to boost water supply and public safety in California’s Central Valley

23 October 2023

The Biden-Harris Administration, in partnership with the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, has given the green light to the B.F. Sisk Dam Raise and Reservoir Expansion Project. This collaborative initiative is set to expand San Luis Reservoir, the largest offstream reservoir in the United States, creating an additional 130,000 acre-feet of storage capacity. The project will provide additional water resources for over two million people, support more than one million acres of farmland, and preserve 135,000 acres of Pacific Flyway wetlands and crucial wildlife habitats. Notably, this move represents the first major approval of a water storage project in California since 2011.

This significant development aligns with President Biden's "Investing in America" agenda, a cornerstone of his economic strategy, known as Bidenomics. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Bureau of Reclamation is allocating a total of $8.3 billion over five years for various water infrastructure projects, encompassing water storage, conveyance, dam safety, water purification, reuse, and desalination. 

$25 million in funding for the B.F. Sisk Dam Project was announced in October 2022, followed by an additional $10 million in July 2023. Moreover, an extra $60 million was authorized for project construction from the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, culminating in a substantial federal contribution totaling $95 million for construction costs thus far.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, Michael Brain, expressed the significance of this milestone, saying, "Through President Biden's Investing in America agenda, Reclamation has reached a major milestone today for the B.F. Sisk Dam Raise and Reservoir Expansion Project, which will build water supply security for farmers and families in the region. As California and the West deal with historic drought conditions, the Biden-Harris administration is working in close coordination with local communities, states, and Tribes to build climate resilience and long-term water supply reliability for future generations."

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Touton added: " Thanks to major investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this project will allow us to secure the B.F. Sisk Dam and contribute to California’s water supply reliability through increased storage capacity at San Luis Reservoir."

The B.F. Sisk Dam, a 382ft high earthfill embankment situated on the west side of the Central Valley, approximately 12 miles west of Los Banos, will play a pivotal role in the project. The dam, extending over three miles, currently impounds San Luis Reservoir with a total capacity of around two million acre-feet of water.

Previously, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocated over $100 million to the B.F. Sisk Dam for a construction project already underway, increasing the dam's crest by 10ft to enhance seismic safety. Building upon this groundwork, the Bureau of Reclamation and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority are collaborating to add another 10 feet to the dam's height. This expansion will unlock additional storage capacity in the reservoir, enabling the delivery of water to south-of-Delta water contractors and supporting vital wildlife refuges.

Cannon Michael, Chair of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority Board, emphasized the project's importance, stating, "San Luis Reservoir has served as the hub of California’s water system south of the Sacramento San Joaquin Bay-Delta since its completion in 1967. The ability to capture more water in the years it is available, particularly given California’s changing climate, is a critical component of a more secure future for the communities, farms, and wildlife dependent on the Central Valley Project for their water supply. We value our partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation and look forward to completion of this vital water storage project."

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