Emma Murphy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Supervisor James Gore, whose north county district includes some of the county’s most prolific wine grape growing areas, voted against the moratorium.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has imposed a six-month halt in all new wells countywide, a far-reaching move likely to impact residential and commercial property owners seeking to tap groundwater amid a historic drought.
The immediate drilling moratorium, which offers only a narrow exemption for emergency water needs, is meant to give the county more time to draw up a new set of well regulations aimed to safeguard surface and subsurface flows in the county’s major watersheds.
A 2021 lawsuit by the environmental group California Coastkeeper Alliance spurred the work toward new regulations, and the Board of Supervisors was scheduled to vote on the new rules Tuesday.
Instead, after hours of deliberation over a proposed well ordinance that would have established new requirements reflecting updated state policy for well permit applicants, the board voted 4-1 to impose a moratorium, seeking to buy time for additional work.
Supervisors cited concerns including the potential impact the ordinance would have on agricultural users, and potential legal ramifications connected to California’s environmental quality laws. The new regulations could affect any wells countywide that come under a new application or are up for renewal.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-board-of-supervises-approves-temporary-halt-in-new-wells/
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Homes and businesses across central Sonoma County generated more than 5 billion gallons of wastewater last year, enough to fill more than 7,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. That sewage flowed into Santa Rosa’s regional treatment plant south of Sebastopol, where it was cleaned up and nearly all of it put to a second use.
About 4 billion gallons of recycled water was pumped north from the Llano Road treatment plant in a 41-mile pipeline and up a steep slope into The Geysers geothermal fields southeast of Cloverdale. There it was injected into the ground to generate enough clean, renewable energy for about 100,000 North Bay households.
The system also sent 788 million gallons of recycled water to 61 farms covering 6,400 acres that produce milk, hay, grapes and vegetables, along with 386 million gallons for urban irrigation in Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa, the two largest cities in the wastewater system.
Every drop of the recycled irrigation water — safe for everything short of human consumption and sanitized to a degree that eliminates the COVID virus — replaces a drop of potable water from sources sure to be strained as California moves into its third year of worrisome drought.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/more-severe-droughts-are-looming-could-santa-rosas-pioneering-water-recyc/
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In a dramatic shift from California’s history of allowing landowners to freely pump and consume water from their own wells, Sonoma County’s rural residents and many others will soon begin paying for the water drawn from beneath their feet.
In the sprawling 81,284-acre Santa Rosa Plain groundwater basin, the proposed regulatory fee for a rural resident is $18 to $25 a year, much lower than the rates in the more sparsely populated Petaluma and Sonoma valleys.
In the 44,846-acre Sonoma Valley basin, the fee would be $48 to $80 a year, and in the 46,661-acre Petaluma Valley basin, it would be $115 to $200 a year.
The residential fees are based on an assumption that rural residents typically pump a half-acre foot of well water a year. Most homes do not have water meters and none will be installed under the fee program.
Large groundwater water users — including ranches, cities, water districts and businesses — would pay fees based on the volume of water drawn from their wells.
Fees in the Santa Rosa basin would be $35 to $50 per acre foot, in Sonoma Valley $95 to $160 per acre foot and in Petaluma Valley $230 to $400 per acre foot.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-unveils-first-ever-proposed-well-water-fees-under-pioneering/
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Plans to acquire an aging power plant in Mendocino County to ensure continued flows of Eel River water into Lake Mendocino and Sonoma County have unraveled.
A coalition of organizations from Sonoma, Humboldt and Mendocino counties abandoned their quest to acquire the century-old Potter Valley hydroelectric plant, saying it could not meet an April 14 deadline for submitting a federal license application.
The plant, about 80 miles north of Santa Rosa, is owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, which in 2019 announced plans to abandon it and surrender its license.
Water users downstream maintained the plant was critical because Eel River water is diverted through its turbines into Lake Mendocino and the Russian River. That, in turn, supplies users as far south as Sonoma and northern Marin counties.
Without the option of acquiring the plant, stakeholders predict years of uncertainty, quarreling and, ultimately, higher costs to water users.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/multicounty-partnership-yields-on-potter-valley-power-plant-license-scramb/
Carol Benfell, SOCONEWS
A Sacramento-based environmental group is suing to stop well drilling in the Russian River watershed until Sonoma County determines if the wells will steal underground water flows from the Russian River or its tributaries.
The lawsuit brought by California Coastkeeper says the county is failing its “public trust” duty to preserve and protect the Russian River for the common good. It asks the court to order a ban on the drilling until the county adopts the appropriate regulations.
“The county has to get squared away on how to keep water flowing in the Russian River,” said Drevet Hunt, an attorney for California Coastkeeper.
The county is taking the issue seriously, said Daniel Virkstis, a county spokesperson.
“The county is taking a hard look at the issues raised in Coastkeeper’s suit and knows they are of significant concern to the community and land owners,” Virkstis said.
There are more than 40,000 rural wells in Sonoma County. About 400 were drilled in the past two years alone, with no examination of their impact on the Russian River watershed, according to county records.
“Over-pumping groundwater has had and continues to cause significant harmful effects on the flow of the Russian River and its tributaries,” said Sean Bothwell, executive director of California Coastkeeper.
“The current drought only makes this problem worse, and restricting surface diversions alone merely drives more groundwater pumping,” Bothwell said.
Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_county/lawsuit-urges-tighter-regulation-of-well-drilling/article_baf881b4-252b-11ec-9586-b79f43109cdb.html?
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A day long dreaded by hundreds of ranchers, grape growers, farmers, water providers and towns arrived Monday as the state ordered them to stop diverting water from the Russian River watershed or be fined $1,000 a day.
State regulators issued orders effective Tuesday prohibiting about 1,500 water rights holders in the upper river — including the cities of Cloverdale and Healdsburg — from diverting water in an effort to preserve rapidly diminishing supplies in Lake Mendocino.
The State Water Resources Control Board also announced plans to curtail another 310 claims in the lower river watershed as early as Aug. 9 to try to slow the drawdown of Lake Sonoma. Another 500 or so rights in the lower river region between Healdsburg and Jenner remain subject to curtailment as conditions deteriorate.
The order is enforceable by fines up to $1,000 a day or $2,500 for each acre foot diverted. Violations also could draw cease-and-desist demands that could result in fines of up to $10,000 per day, according to the State Water Board.
The restrictions are part of a sweeping, unprecedented attempt to confront a historic drought that water managers fear could extend into a third dry winter.
That would leave the region to struggle through another year using only the water already captured in the two reservoirs. That water is not just for basic human health and safety. It also must be used to keep the river flowing for fish and other wildlife and provide for water rights holders along the way.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/state-taking-unprecedented-action-to-conserve-water-in-upper-russian-river/
Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT
Two winters ago, the Russian River was a swollen, chocolate-brown mass, full from bank to bank as it surged toward the Pacific Ocean, gathering runoff from sodden hillsides and frothing creeks amid torrential rains.
The floods of late February 2019 were the worst in two decades. They sent roiling water into communities along the river’s lower reaches in Sonoma County. Thousands of residents were displaced, restaurants were damaged and inns shuttered mere months before the summer tourist season. The losses would amount to tens of millions of dollars.
Now, shriveled by another historic drought, the same river cuts a languid, narrow path through a parched landscape — a slender ribbon of water stretching from inland Mendocino County to Healdsburg, where it is widened with a shot of cool reservoir water from Dry Creek before winding west to the sea.
The lifeblood of Sonoma, Mendocino and northern Marin counties, the river provides drinking water for more than 600,000 people. It is a refuge for imperiled fish and supports a thriving recreational economy. Much of the region’s $12-plus billion wine industry wouldn’t be here without it.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/russian-river-on-the-brink-lifeblood-of-north-coast-imperiled-by-deepening/