Tag Archives: water regulation

Get to know your groundwater source in Sonoma County

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For information on the Sonoma County’s Sustainable Groundwater Management program, click here.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, the first law in state history to regulate pumping subsurface water, applies to about 9,000 wells in three groundwater basins in Sonoma County.

Reports by the county Water Agency in 2015 described conditions in the three basins, which essentially cover the county’s flatlands, also its biggest population and farming centers.

Santa Rosa Plain: Covers 78,720 acres from Rohnert Park and Cotati north to Windsor, including Santa Rosa and the east edge of Sebastopol. It has an estimated 6,000 wells.

Groundwater levels in the southern part of the plain declined in the late 1970s through the early 1990s, followed by recovery in the early 2000s. Water quality is generally high, with naturally occurring elements such as iron, manganese, boron and arsenic problematic in some areas and increasing chloride in southern parts of the plain.

Petaluma Valley: Covers 46,000 acres from Penngrove down to San Pablo Bay. It has an estimated 1,000 wells.

Sonoma Valley: Covers 44,700 acres from Kenwood to San Pablo Bay. It has an estimated 2,000 wells.

Groundwater levels in deep aquifers, primarily in southeastern and southwestern Sonoma Valley, have been declining for a decade or more. Water levels in many wells in these areas are dropping several feet a year and have fallen below sea level. Groundwater quality is generally good, except for brackish water affecting wells in southernmost Sonoma Valley and representing a threat if groundwater levels continue to drop.

Read more at: Get to know your groundwater source in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

New oversight of groundwater taking shape in Sonoma County – state ending past practice of unregulated pumping

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Vickie Mulas, a partner in her family’s Sonoma Valley dairy and vineyard operations, is no friend of regulations.“They’re kind of onerous, restrictive and costly,” said Mulas, stating her case bluntly, as farmers often do.

But Mulas, a member of a prominent local ranching family, relishes her role in California’s newest round of rule-making that will — in an unprecedented departure from past practice — put limits on how much water people can pump out of the ground.

She’s a board member on one of more than 100 new agencies statewide — including three in Sonoma County — being formed to implement a landmark California water law that will bring order to groundwater, the aqueous subterranean stores that collectively hold more than 10 times as much water as all the state’s surface reservoirs combined.

In the aftermath of a historic five-year drought that prompted wholesale overdrafting of Central Valley aquifers — triggering dramatic collapses in the landscape — California is replacing a largely hands-off approach to groundwater with a regulatory system that includes metering, monitoring and potentially limiting pumping, along with fees to pay for the regulatory process.

The new order is just starting to come into shape and will take several years to implement, with still-undefined costs, monitoring and limits that in Sonoma County will primarily fall on thousands of rural well owners, including residents and farmers.

The new legal landscape alone is uncharted for California.

County Supervisor David Rabbitt, a member of the two governing agencies that will oversee groundwater in Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley, said the state is making a philosophical shift away from the timeworn notion of “sacrosanct” private water rights.

“The aquifer beneath your well is connected to your neighbor’s well,” he said.

For groundwater users in the 44,700-acre basin that supplies Sonoma Valley, the underground creep of salt water and dropping fresh water levels have long been concerns. Now, Mulas and other public and community representatives appointed to the region’s groundwater sustainability agency will have a formal stake in staving off those threats.

Read more at: New oversight of groundwater taking shape in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water

Key public meetings set for governing groundwater in Sonoma County

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PUBLIC HEARINGS

Santa Rosa Plain Basin
Thursday, June 1, 5:30 p.m.
Santa Rosa Utilities Field Office, 35 Stony Point Rd.

Sonoma Valley Basin
Thursday, June 8, 5:30 p.m.
Vintage House Senior Center, 264 First St. East, Sonoma

Petaluma Valley Basin
Thursday, June 22, 5:30 p.m.
Petaluma Community Center, 320 North McDowell Blvd.

Residents who want to influence or at least understand how Sonoma County’s groundwater will be managed going forward are invited to participate in public hearings next month that will help shape new agencies governing aquifers.

Three new groundwater sustainability agencies are being formed under the 2014 state law meant to ensure that California’s groundwater basins are protected from depletion in an era of climate change and weather extremes.

The new law calls for monitoring, managing and, where necessary, regulating pumping from groundwater basins, which currently supply more than a third of the state’s water needs, even in a rainy year.

The state’s prolonged drought and overpumping of aquifers, especially in the Central Valley, fueled the new layer of oversight. Previously, California was the only western state to have no regulation of groundwater.

“It never really becomes real to people until it’s right in front of their face,” Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said of rules now governing groundwater.

Sonoma County is comparatively water-rich in surface and groundwater supplies, though some areas of Rohnert Park and the Sonoma Valley have come under past scrutiny for overuse.

Gore said the county is ahead of other regions in terms of how much study already has taken place, referring to recent reports by the U.S. Geological Survey.

But growing tension over the impact of vineyard expansion and a booming wine industry have ensured water also is a source of local political conflict.

Most residents reliant on groundwater, including their own wells, have more questions than answers so far about the new bureaucracies, Gore said.

Read more at: Key public meetings set for governing groundwater in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Governor Jerry Brown declares drought over in California

Dale Kasler and Christopher Cadelago, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

The drought officially ended in most of California on Friday, but state officials vowed to clamp down on wasteful water use and impose a long-term conservation program that could create friction with urban water users.

Following a deluge of wet weather that left reservoirs brimming and the Sierra snowpack bulging, Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to a drought that brought California some of the driest periods in recorded history.

But the governor warned the state’s groundwater supplies remain perilously low in some areas, and the state will continue to forbid Californians from hosing off sidewalks, watering their lawns during or immediately after rainfalls, and other wasteful practices. Municipalities will have to keep reporting their monthly water usage. With climate change threatening to make future droughts worse, Brown and others called on Californians to remain cautious about water usage.

“The next drought could be around the corner,” Brown said in a prepared statement.

Dry weather began in earnest in early 2012. It wasn’t until January 2014, with conditions worsening, that Brown declared a state of emergency and the drought officially began. Friday’s decision rescinds that declaration, as well as most drought-related executive orders he issued when the drought reached its zenith in 2015.

Brown lifted the drought order in every county except Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne, where the governor said emergency drinking water projects will continue to help communities where wells have gone dry. The state will also continue fighting the bark beetle outbreak that has killed millions of trees weakened by drought.

Read more at: Gov. Jerry Brown declares drought over in California | The Sacramento Bee

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

Sonoma County supervisors to serve on boards of three new groundwater agencies 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County is pressing forward with plans to regulate local groundwater use for the first time as officials move to establish three new agencies that will be charged with managing one of the area’s most critical resources.

The Board of Supervisors weighed in Tuesday on the efforts of county staff members to implement a 2014 state law mandating the creation of so-called groundwater sustainability agencies in certain areas by June 30. Based on the law’s requirements, the county is forming such agencies for three of its groundwater basins: the Santa Rosa Plain, the Petaluma Valley and the Sonoma Valley.

Each agency will be governed by a board with elected or appointed members from various entities eligible to participate under the law, called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The law empowers the groundwater agencies to, among other duties, conduct studies, regulate extraction and assess fees. California landowners have historically not been limited in their ability to extract the groundwater beneath their properties.

“It’s certainly never easy to form a new regulatory entity, especially one that eventually will meddle, quite frankly, in something that for decades — if not longer — has not been meddled in,” Supervisor David Rabbitt said.

Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors to serve on boards of three new groundwater agencies | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Sonoma County on path to regulating groundwater supplies

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The first of three meetings to gather public feedback on a new regulatory framework for groundwater in Sonoma County drew a standing-room only crowd in Petaluma on Thursday night.

Concerns raised about the new regulations ranged from who is to be subjected to them, to how the rules will be enforced. Out-of-pocket costs were another worry.

“How much are we looking at?” asked Norma Giddings, who lives west of Petaluma and was among more than 100 people at the Petaluma Community Center.

The question underscored the many unknowns with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which seeks to regulate groundwater for the first time in California when the law goes into effect in 2022.

Officials on Thursday went over in detail, as they have in previous meetings, the progress they’ve made toward establishing local agencies to implement the state-mandated groundwater program.

They said much more will be known once those governing boards are in place.

Read more at: Sonoma County on path to regulating groundwater supplies | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Public meetings slated to inform Sonoma County groundwater users

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County residents dependent on private wells, and others interested in understanding how California’s new groundwater management law will be implemented locally, are urged to attend three upcoming meetings on the topic that begin Thursday night.

The sessions are being held to explain the governance structure being developed for three Sonoma County groundwater basins immediately affected by the state’s 2014 law. They include the Petaluma Valley, Santa Rosa Plain and Sonoma Valley basins.

New groundwater sustainability agencies are to be developed for each basin after public hearings planned for April and May. The deadline to create the new local agencies is June 30.

The informational meeting schedule is as follows:

Petaluma Valley, March 23, 6-8 p.m., Petaluma Community Center, 320 North McDowell Blvd.

Sonoma Valley, March 27, 6-8 p.m., Sonoma Charter School multi-purpose room, 17202 Sonoma Highway

Santa Rosa Plain, April 3, 6-8 p.m., Santa Rosa Utilities field office, 35 Stony Point Road.

More information is available at sonomacountygroundwater.org.

Source: Public meetings slated to inform Sonoma County groundwater users | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Russian River “Low Flow E.I.R.” 

RUSSIAN RIVERKEEPER

In 2003 Riverkeeper engaged residents and activists in the Lower Russian River when the public learned about plans to drop the summer flows in the river by up to 80%.

In 2008, the Russian River Biological Opinion (RRBO) was approved by NOAA Fisheries in order to mitigate negative impacts from the operation of the two Army Corps dams, water supply operations and flood control activities. The RRBO section titled “reasonable and prudent alternatives” stated that salmon would benefit if we cut summer flows by 70% in an attempt to improve estuary conditions for juvenile salmon by maintaining a closed estuary. The rationale was that lower flows would help maintain a closed estuary but over the last several years it is clear that goal will be difficult to meet due to natural ocean conditions.

At that time, Riverkeeper stated that cutting flows would increase nutrient concentrations and end up harming juvenile salmon in the estuary by growing too much algae, which affects dissolved oxygen levels. Fast forward to last summer and we had flows in the 70 cubic feet per second range that is close to the proposed 70% reduction and we had our first ever toxic algae outbreak that killed at least two dogs.

At the same time, our understanding of fish population dynamics supported by many fishery biologists is that food production in the river above the estuary would be negatively affected by cutting flows by up to 70%.

The Draft EIR was released from the Sonoma County Water Agency in mid-August. Read the EIR here.

Russian Riverkeeper is concerned with likely water quality problems if flows are allowed to stay below 100cfs throughout the summer months. One of our goals is to ensure water saved from reduced flows is not put up for sale but reserved to mitigate potential water quality impacts.

The comment period for this Draft EIR ended on Friday, March 10.  The Sonoma County Water Agency now will read all the comments and questions, and will reply to all of them.  They hope to have the Final EIR done by the end of 2017.  Then it goes to the State Water Resources Control Board for final approval.

Click here to read Russian Riverkeeper’s protest letter to the State Water Resources Control Board:   RussianRiverKeeper Protest Pet12497a 9Mar17

Source: Russian River “Low Flow E.I.R.” | Russian Riverkeeper

Filed under Uncategorized

San Joaquin Valley continues to sink because of groundwater pumping, NASA says

Joseph Serna, LOS ANGELES TIMES

California’s San Joaquin Valley continues to sink at an alarming rate because of groundwater pumping and irrigation, according to a new study by NASA. Ground levels in some areas have dropped 1 to 2 feet in the last two years, creating deeper and wider “bowls” that continue to threaten the vital network of channels that transport water across Southern California, researchers say.

The findings underscore the fact that even as record rain and snow have brought much of California out of severe drought, some parts of the state will probably struggle with water problems for years to come.

Despite a new series of storms that battered California this week, state water regulators decided Wednesday to maintain drought restrictions for at least a few more months as they continue to assess recovery.

Researchers said subsidence has long been a problem in parts of California. “But the current rates jeopardize infrastructure serving millions of people,” said William Croyle, acting director of the state Department of Water Resources. “Groundwater pumping now puts at risk the very system that brings water to the San Joaquin Valley.”

Subsidence occurs when water is removed from underground aquifers and the surrounding soil collapses on itself. Even if the underground water is replenished, subsided basins can’t hold as much water as they did previously.

Read more at: San Joaquin Valley continues to sink because of groundwater pumping, NASA says – LA Times

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water

Wine industry wants greater say in Sonoma County groundwater regulation 

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Vintners and wine industry representatives on Tuesday pressed Sonoma County supervisors to give farming interests a greater say in how California’s new law governing groundwater is put into place on a local level.

As proposed by staff from Sonoma County Water Agency and county administrator’s office, those interests are set to hold an advisory role — but not voting power — on the agencies that will oversee the three local aquifers that fall under the state law. Environmentalists and rural residents who depend on wells for their water supply would also be represented on the advisory groups.

That arrangement, however, has riled representatives of the county’s wine industry and other agricultural interests, who see much at stake in how the new law is imposed. The governing agencies, which must be formed by June 30, will have the ability to register and monitor wells, restrict pumping and prevent drilling of new wells. Agencies would also have the ability to assess new fees and taxes.

“Nothing good for farmers in this county … can come from this monitoring,” Jim Bundschu, an owner of Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “Agriculture needs a larger voice.”

Supervisors on Tuesday voiced support for a recommendation by the Water Agency to create three separate regulatory bodies — one each to oversee groundwater in the Santa Rosa Plain, Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley.

Read more at: Wine industry wants greater say in Sonoma County groundwater regulation | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water