Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Facing a wave of opposition over proposed fees for using well water, the directors of a little-known public agency backed away from a decision Thursday and agreed to consider an alternative plan that would exempt rural residents and cost other groundwater users far less overall.
Irate residents blistered the Santa Rosa Groundwater Sustainability Agency’s board of directors with complaints over the inequity and underlying principle of the plan to make residents, ranchers, businesses, towns and cities pay — for the first time — for water pumped out of the ground.
“I don’t believe the process is fair,” said Michael Hilber of Santa Rosa. The cost of the state-mandated groundwater management program, he said, was being “shifted away from industrial wine interests” and inflated for homeowners.
Orlean Koehle of Santa Rosa said the proposed fees were “ridiculous” in the wake of heavy rains and also violated the common law principle that “a well goes with a property owner (rights).”
Justin Morse complained the fees could double repeatedly in the future and with no “guarantee the funds get spent on groundwater.”
Pat Mitchell said the new regulations amounted to “more agencies with people that have to be paid for their time.”
In response, board Chairwoman Lynda Hopkins and Director Shirlee Zane, both county supervisors, introduced a “Plan B.”
The new proposal would exempt an estimated 7,300 rural well owners in the Santa Rosa Plain from all fees and include financial contributions from both the county and Sonoma Water, the agency that delivers water to 600,000 Sonoma and Mendocino county residents.
The alternative plan, to be presented in detail at the board’s next meeting in June, would also dispense with a proposed well registration program.