“In 2014, California’s landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) promised comprehensive management of California’s groundwater. The report, based on joint analysis by Stanford University’s Water in the West and The Nature Conservancy, finds that SGMA actually suffers from several major gaps in its coverage. Indeed, SGMA currently protects less than two percent of California’s groundwater. While SGMA covers those groundwater basins where the vast majority of pumping today occurs, it does not protect many other important groundwater sources, leaving that groundwater at risk of over-pumping, now and in the future, with no state oversight to safeguard rural domestic wells, sensitive habitats, and other beneficial uses of water. This report, Mind the Gaps: The Case for Truly Comprehensive Sustainable Groundwater Management, details SGMA’s gaps and their consequences and recommends several ways to remedy these gaps. The gaps largely stem from the ways in which the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) defines and prioritizes groundwater basins in Bulletin 118 (California’s Groundwater). … ” Read the report here: Mind the Gaps: The Case for Truly Comprehensive Sustainable Groundwater Management
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The shallow wells Sonoma County’s water agency is drilling near 11 waterways have nothing to do with delivering water to 600,000 residents of Sonoma and Marin counties.
Instead, the 21 wells will serve as measuring sticks to determine whether pumping groundwater in the county’s three basins — the Santa Rosa Plain, Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley — is curbing the flow in creeks inhabited by federally protected fish and other species.
The $300,000 project is the latest consequence of a state law, enacted during California’s five-year drought, requiring long-term sustainability of underground water supplies that were heavily tapped during the prolonged dry spell.
And that means assessing the connection between surface water and groundwater and possibly, for the first time in state history, setting limits on use of well water by residents, ranchers, businesses and public water systems.
“We can’t see what’s beneath the surface, so these monitoring wells will act like underground telescopes. They can help us see how much and when water is available,” county Supervisor Susan Gorin said in a statement.
Gorin is chairwoman of the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency, which covers the basin seen as most susceptible to depletion. Local agencies were formed in 2017 in each of the county’s basins to implement mandates of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that became law in 2015 amid the state’s historic drought.
Farming interests generally have taken a dim view of the increased monitoring and prospect of pumping limits. During the recent drought, when stream flows were greatly diminished statewide, Central Valley farmers especially drew heavily on groundwater at rates that officials said were unsustainable, risking a whole host of related environmental impacts — on drinking water, soil and wildlife.
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.
Ann DuBay, WINDSOR TIMES
For more information about the Santa Rosa Plain GSA, go to www.santarosaplaingroundwater.org.
The Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) is hosting a community meeting on Jan. 30, to discuss a proposed groundwater sustainability fee to provide short-term funding for the new agency. Attendees will also learn about a proposed well registration program. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 30, Finley Community Center, 2060 West College Ave, Santa Rosa.
The GSA was created to sustain the quality and quantity of groundwater in the Santa Rosa Plain (generally, the valley floor stretching from Cotati to Windsor and from the foot of Sonoma Mountain to Sebastopol). This state-mandated agency is nearing completion of a yearlong study to finds ways to finance day-to-day operations and groundwater planning. A groundwater sustainability fee – based on estimated groundwater use – is being considered.
“The GSA Board has worked for more than a year to develop an equitable, low-impact solution that will allow us to fund this state-mandated agency,” said Santa Rosa Plain GSA board chair Lynda Hopkins. “The meeting is an opportunity for community members to learn about the proposed fee, and to share their thoughts.”
“The GSA Board and Advisory Committee have discussed fee options in 12 public meetings, we held a community workshop to solicit creative ideas and we’ve provided monthly updates to our large email list,” said Santa Rosa Plain GSA vice-chairman Tom Schwedhelm. “We hope people can attend the January 30 meeting to learn more details.”
Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Thousands of Sonoma County residents who rely on groundwater will likely see new fees on their property tax bill next fall, helping pay for a legally required groundwater regulatory plan.
Local agencies governing groundwater resources were created in 2017 following the passage of a landmark California law intended to safeguard the previously unregulated water supply. Those new agencies in the Santa Rosa Plain, the Sonoma Valley and the Petaluma Valley were given until 2022 to craft plans that take stock of the amount of groundwater in each basin and establish measures ensuring sustainability for the next 20 years.
The agencies have each received $1 million in state grant funding, but officials say more money is needed to complete the framework. The groundwater agency in the Santa Rosa Plain has opted to levy fees on users to bridge its $1 million gap, while the Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley agencies will pay their own respective costs, said Ann DuBay, a Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman.
The board of directors of the Santa Rosa Plain agency held a study session Thursday to hone in on fees and ways to create a program to register wells in the basin. It covers 78,720 acres from Rohnert Park and Cotati north to Windsor, including Santa Rosa and the east edge of Sebastopol.
Potential fees, which vary by type of use, would be levied on cities, water districts, farmers, businesses and residents with wells over the course of three years. About 13,000 parcels could be impacted by new fees, DuBay said.
SONOMA RESOURCE CONSERVATION DISTRICT
Apply to the Sonoma RCD for Appointment to the Petaluma Valley, Santa Rosa Plain, or Sonoma Valley GSA Advisory Committees: Applications due August 4, 2017
As you may know, the Sonoma RCD is a Member Agency in all three of the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies that have recently formed in Sonoma County (Petaluma Valley, Santa Rosa Plain, Sonoma Valley). As a Member Agency, the RCD will appoint one member to the Advisory Committee for each GSA. The RCD is seeking applications from stakeholders within each groundwater basin who are interested in serving on the Committee. For more information, and to apply, please click on the link for your basin:
Santa Rosa Plain
Apply for GSA Advisory Committee Interest-Based Seats
Each basin also has a number of “interest-based” seats that will be appointed by the GSA Board. Stakeholders can learn more and apply directly to the GSA for
these seats by clicking here.
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.
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
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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
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