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.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9064333-181/sonoma-county-explores-fees-to
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.
Read more at: Get to know your groundwater source in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat
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
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
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
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