Sonoma County’s first experiment with underground drinking water storage is taking place at an unremarkable well drilled to 230 feet into the floor of Sonoma Valley.
Here, enough Russian River water to fill a large swimming pool — about 500,000 gallons — is now on deposit in a sand and gravel aquifer that lies beneath a thick lid of 8 million-year-old lava rock underlying part of the valley.
On Tuesday, crews began pumping water back out of the ground in the first round of testing under a $250,000 study of groundwater storage and recovery conducted by the Sonoma County Water Agency and the city of Sonoma.
The goal of the study, which started last month and will run through July, is to “verify and empirically determine” the feasibility of pumping plentiful wintertime surface water into the ground for extraction during dry summers, with increasingly volatile weather patterns expected as a consequence of climate change, officials said.
If the practice, known as groundwater banking, proves viable it “will make us a lot more resilient” as climate change forces the county to “ping pong between floods and drought,” said Jay Jasperse, chief engineer and director of groundwater management for the water agency.
Similar projects are underway around the state as water managers move toward integrated systems meshing surface water in lakes, rivers and behind dams with water stored in underground reservoirs, known as aquifers, he said.
With the coming rainy season, some Sonoma County residents are fearful of the effects of runoff from the recent North Bay fires entering the nearby Russian River, a major source of water for Sonoma and Marin counties.
Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are studying the fire’s impact on the Russian River and the groundwater system, which serves about 600,000 residents in Sonoma and Marin counties, according to an article published by the lab last week.
The fires, which began Oct. 8, burned more than 100,000 acres and destroyed more than 5,700 structures. Many UC Berkeley students hail from the affected area and were subsequently uprooted from their communities.
The lab is also working with the United States Geological Survey, or USGS, and Sonoma County Water Agency, or SCWA, to monitor water quality in Sonoma County, according to an SCWA press release published last month.
There are six riverbank filtration systems located along and around Sonoma County’s Russian River, according to Michelle Newcomer, a postdoctoral fellow in the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division at the lab.
These riverbank systems, which pump river water 20 meters underground to natural aquifers, use sediments and environmental aerobic microbes to filter the water, according to Newcomer.
Read more at: Berkeley Lab studies effects of North Bay fires on Sonoma County water
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
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
When Gov. Jerry Brown in September signed a package of three bills designed to curb overpumping of water from underground aquifers, the historic legislation sent fear and panic throughout Sonoma County. Residents who depend on underground wells as their primary source of water contacted county officials to ask how the laws would affect them, and farmers whose operations require a steady supply of water lobbied hard to be included in conversations about restrictions going forward.
County water officials and supervisors heard concerns about mandatory groundwater monitoring and rationing, and fielded questions about fines and penalties associated with pumping.
Sonoma County this week unveiled its first formal response to a wave of queries over the past six months about how California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which establishes the first rules for pumping groundwater in the Golden State, would affect property owners and agriculture.
“Monitoring and conserving groundwater is no longer going to be voluntary,” said Jay Jasperse, chief engineer and director of groundwater management for the Sonoma County Water Agency. “Some people were saying they’re mad, that it infringes on private property rights and water rights, but on the other hand, we’ve also heard from people who are saying it’s about time to regulate groundwater.”
Between now and June 2017, Sonoma County must form a local agency to develop and oversee plans for achieving sustainable groundwater levels in each of the county’s 14 underground basins.
Read more via Sonoma County gets set to study groundwater regulations | The Press Democrat.
Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Regulators in California, the country’s third-largest oil-producing state, have authorized oil companies to inject production fluids and waste into what are now federally protected aquifers more than 2,500 times, risking contamination of underground water supplies that could be used for drinking water or irrigation, state records show.
While some of the permits go back decades, an Associated Press analysis found that nearly half of those injection wells — 46 percent — were permitted or began injection in the last four years under Gov. Jerry Brown, who has pushed state oil and gas regulators to speed up the permitting process. And it happened despite warnings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since 2011 that state regulators were failing to do enough to shield groundwater reserves from the threat of oilfield pollution.
In California, "we need a big course correction. We need to get the system back in compliance," said Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator for the EPA. "Californians expect their water is not being polluted by oil producers … This poses that very real danger."
The injections are convenient to oil companies because drilling brings up 13 gallons of wastewater for every gallon of petroleum. And one of the easiest disposal methods is simply to send that waste back underground.
The federal government is now demanding that state officials take immediate steps to find and deal with any contamination and end oil-industry operations in all aquifers set aside for families and farms.
Those water supplies are especially vital because California, the nation’s most populous state and its agricultural leader, is now entering the fourth year of a historic drought.
State officials acknowledge that regulators erred, citing confusion about the boundaries of aquifers and oil fields or long-standing state misinterpretations of federal water-safety requirements. The vast majority of the permits were granted after the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.
Read more via California allowed oilfield dumping into drinking water (w/video) | The Press Democrat.
Sonoma County Water Agency, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
On October 7th the Sonoma County Water Agency Board of Directors adopted a Groundwater Management Plan (Plan) for the Santa Rosa Plain (Plain). The Plan sets a framework to locally and voluntarily manage groundwater resources. “This is a well thought out plan that was developed by a diverse group of stakeholders,” said Efren Carrillo, Water Agency Director. “The voluntary measures of the plan promote groundwater management to support all beneficial uses in an environmentally sound, economical, and equitable manner.”
The Plan was developed by the Basin Advisory Panel (Panel), a balanced stakeholder group. A comprehensive study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey that found that the Plain is experiencing an average annual loss of stored groundwater, which, if not modified, could lead to issues such as declining or dry wells, reduced water flows in creeks and streams, and a loss of water supply flexibility. The Plan promotes activities and programs that aim to create sustainable groundwater levels in the Plain.
“The drought underscores the need to manage our groundwater sustainably, and right now we’re using more than we can sustain,” emphasized Water Agency Director Shirlee Zane. “We’ve been talking about the need for integrated water management for a long time, and this is a step in the right direction for collecting data and creating successful management practices.”
One of the first actions of the plan is to better characterize groundwater conditions by increasing streamflow measurements and voluntary groundwater level monitoring. This data will be used to prioritize groundwater sustainability projects and programs, such as rural water use efficiency programs and groundwater recharge projects.
“This data driven plan puts Sonoma County ahead of the curve when it comes to creating sustainable groundwater levels which will benefit generations of residents,” added Mike McGuire, Water Agency Director. “Climate change is real and we have to be prepared for longer, dryer times.”
Studies, projects, and programs conducted under the Plan may be implemented by one or more organizations, following input or guidance from the Panel. For example, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District will use information from the Plan to support future prioritization of land acquisitions in the Santa Rosa plain – including actions to conserve groundwater recharge areas while providing multiple additional benefits, such as protecting agricultural and open space lands from development.
Read more via Managing Groundwater in the Santa Rosa Plain.
Dan Bacher, SAN DIEGO FREE PRESS
As the oil industry spent record amounts on lobbying in Sacramento and made record profits, documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity reveal that almost 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater were illegally dumped into Central California aquifers that supply drinking water and irrigation water for farms.
The Center said the wastewater entered the aquifers through at least nine injection disposal wells used by the oil industry to dispose of waste contaminated with fracking (hydraulic fracturing) fluids and other pollutants.
The documents also reveal that Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board testing found high levels of arsenic, thallium and nitrates, contaminants sometimes found in oil industry wastewater, in water-supply wells near these waste-disposal operations.
The illegal dumping took place in a state where Big Oil is the most powerful corporate lobby and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) is the most powerful corporate lobbying organization, alarming facts that the majority of the public and even many environmental activists are not aware of.
Read more via Massive Dumping of Fracking Wastewater into Aquifers Shows Big Oil’s Power in California.
The county is seeking public input on the revised rules through a series of meetings this week. Tuesday’s meeting, from 9 a.m. to noon, and Thursday’s, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., are at the Permit and Resource Management Department, 2550 Ventura Ave. Santa Rosa.
Sonoma County planning officials on Monday unveiled the most significant changes in nearly 40 years to the county’s underground well ordinance, which sets in place rules property owners must follow when drilling a new water well.
The proposed changes would prohibit new wells from being installed within 30 feet of streams. They would also prevent new wells from being drilled within between 20 feet and 100 feet of existing wells, depending on the ground water basin. The rules would also ban well drilling into streams.
The changes, slated to go before the Board of Supervisors early next year, would not affect the estimated 40,000 wells that now exist outside of city limits or establish a limit on the number of new wells permitted by the county.
County planning officials said the proposed revisions — to a well ordinance adopted in 1978 — have been on the drawing board for years, before the onset of the current drought. The goal is to prevent new wells from sucking streams dry and diminishing connected underground supplies. The rules are also intended to shield streams from sediment and other pollution that can be unleashed during well construction.
“Right now you can drill and pump as much as you want,” said Nathan Quarles, an engineer with the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department. “Some of that is causing harm to fisheries.” The federal agency in charge of salmon and steelhead recovery is taking issue with revisions, contending the 30-foot setback may not do enough to protect imperiled fish species. Wells in some areas should be further away from streams to protect surface- and sub-surface flows, a federal biologist said.
Read more via Sonoma County unveils proposed rules for new wells | The Press Democrat.