MAXWELL -- In a rare moment of unity for two ideological antagonists, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove and Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, on Wednesday unveiled legislation to build a new large-scale reservoir in Northern California.
That Garamendi and LaMalfa found common ground illustrated how the drought desiccating California has led both Republicans and Democrats to clamor for more water storage. If the state is to endure droughts, storage proponents say, it must build more capacity to trap precipitation in wetter years.
"There's a world of hurt in the fields and orchards around us because we failed in the past to prepare for the inevitable drought," Garamendi said, gesturing to fields bordered by the languidly flowing Glen Colusa canal.
The Sites Reservoir, for which the bill would direct a feasibility study and authorize construction, would be capable of holding up to 1.9 million acre feet of water.
Proponents said pouring that extra water into California's existing plumbing system would. benefit a multitude of users: farmers and urban faucets in addition to protected fish who could see additional discharges through the Delta.
"The more storage we have anywhere in California helps all of us," LaMalfa said.
The bill does not guarantee any federal funds. LaMalfa said that would ease its passage by reassuring critics wary of earmarks, and he predicted that other funding sources would surface.
"We have private sector funding that is waiting to happen if they have confidence in this project," LaMalfa said.
The so-called Sites Reservoir - technically called the North of the Delta Offstream Storage project - sits on a short list of storage projects California officials are trying to push forward, goaded by the historically devastating drought.
Other projects included in active bills before Congress include efforts to raise Shasta Dam, enlarge the San Luis Reservoir and construct a dam on the Upper San Joaquin River, popularly referred to as Temperance Flat.
"This is one of several storage projects that have to take place," Garamendi said, but he called Sites "the best of all."
In a recent speech to the Association of California Water Agencies, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, mentioned all four.
"The lesson is clear: we must build more storage to prepare for the next drought which is sure to come," Feinstein said.
And the calls for more water storage haven't been confined to Congress. The halls of the state Capitol in Sacramento hum with talk of placing a water bond on the 2014 ballot, with seven separate proposals on tap to replace a politically unpopular $11.1 billion measure currently scheduled to go before voters in November.
All include some amount of money for storage. But one authored by Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville, is aimed predominantly at the Sites Reservoir and the Temperance Flats projects, offering $4.8 billion for those two dams.
Logue is challenging Garamendi this year, seeking to unseat the Democrat in the recently redrawn 3rd Congressional district.
PHOTO: Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, left, and John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, at a press conference to introduce a bill to study a possible reservoir near Maxwell, Calif., on March 19, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench