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
Ellen Knickmeyer and Scott Smith, THE WASHINGTON POST
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly reveal details of the talks.Some water district officials said the move, to be done by a group of regional California water agencies in what is called a joint-powers authority, or JPA, would speed up the mega-project, which they say is needed to modernize California’s existing north-south water delivery systems.
California’s powerful regional water districts are working alongside Gov. Jerry Brown to take on more responsibility for designing, building and arranging financing for a $15.7 billion twin tunnel project that would ship water southward from Northern California as they push to finally close the deal on the controversial plan, two officials working closely on the project told The Associated Press.
Talks among Brown’s office, state agencies and the water contractors have been under way since May that could lessen the state’s hands-on role in one of California’s biggest water projects in decades, according to the two sources, one a senior official involved in the project, the other an employee working closely on the project.
Critics who oppose the tunnels said the change could allow California’s big water districts to cut corners on issues affecting public safety and the environment.
Read more at: APNewsBreak: Water agencies push bigger role in tunnel plan – The Washington Post
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
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The supervisor’s goal in drawing together diverse interests from the public, private and nonprofit sectors is to “drive toward creating a one-watershed plan,” he said.
Environmentalists, bureaucrats, public officials, Native Americans and a patron of the arts gathered Friday to plot a future for the Russian River, the waterway they all consider a foundation for communities throughout the North Bay.
The river, which snakes 110 miles from the Mendocino County highlands near Willits to the Pacific Ocean at Jenner in Sonoma County, is a magnet for boaters, bird-watchers, swimmers and anglers, a water supply for 600,000 North Bay residents and the main artery of a 1,500-square-mile watershed.
It also faces a host of challenges over poor water quality and competing demands to support endangered fish, tourism, water storage, flood control and human needs ranging from raw thirst to pure inspiration.
Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore convened the Russian River Confluence, which drew about 220 people Friday to Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm, located about 2 miles east of the river in the Forestville area.
Read more at: Russian River’s future draws diverse crowd to conference | The Press Democrat
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A historic drought that parched the landscape and turned water conservation into a civic duty already seemed a distant memory on the North Coast when a series of powerful storms slammed into California over the weekend, dumping enough moisture to swamp lake- and streamside buildings that stood high and dry at the peak of the drought.
With local reservoirs now filled past capacity for this time of year and the Russian River still swollen with runoff, the U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday that more than 41 percent of California — including the whole northern part of the state — is officially drought-free, a marked and gratifying shift from the weeks and months leading up to the new year, when even seasonally wet winter weather was not yet enough to declare the drought over.
Sonoma County Water Agency spokesman Brad Sherwood said Thursday that’s all changed.
“We always said that if we got above-average rainfall in consecutive years that we’d be sitting good,” Sherwood said, “and this series of storms definitely put the drought out, without a doubt.”
Read more at: Drought recedes as North Coast rivers, reservoirs swell from storms | The Press Democrat
Alec Peters, THE KENWOOD PRESS
At a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, some residents of Sonoma Mountain Road challenged the findings and analysis of a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) prepared for the Belden Barns winery and creamery project.
The Belden Barns development proposal, the first of its kind on Sonoma Mountain Road, is asking the county for a use permit for a facility that would process 10,000 cases of wine and 10,000 pounds of cheese. There would be public retail sales and by appointment tastings, and eight agricultural promotional events a year with 60-200 attendees.
Current structures on the property would be torn down, and 15,851 square feet of new buildings would be constructed – a production facility, tasting room, and employee housing unit.
The 55-acre property is located at 5561 Sonoma Mountain Road, about one and a half miles east of the Pressley Road/Sonoma Mountain Road intersection.
The voluminous DEIR concluded that any environmental impacts could be reduced to a “less than significant level” with the implementation of mitigation measures, a finding that speakers at the July 19 Board of Supervisors meeting took issue with.
Specifically, speakers said that no efforts could mitigate the road safety issues on Sonoma Mountain Road, a 7.5-mile, two-lane road that is narrow and windy in places, and considered one of the worst roads in Sonoma County.
In addition, some speakers questioned the hydrology analysis of the DEIR and whether it accurately represented the project’s impacts on nearby water sources.
Also discussed by the public and board was the DEIR’s analysis of alternatives to the project as proposed, including eliminating the tasting room or having it be off-site, such as in Santa Rosa or Rohnert Park. Another alternative under review is one that eliminates the events component.
Throughout the entire time since the Belden Barns first filed their use permit request in 2012, a number of neighbors have been concerned about future development in the Sonoma Mountain Road area if Belden Barns was approved. Those concerns were voiced again at the July 19 hearing.
“Please keep in mind there are 16 vineyards in the immediate area that are in line to follow the Beldens,” said Donna Parker, who lives right across from Belden Barns. “And why not? They can make more money right where they are. So the precedent setting nature of this proposal cannot be ignored.”
The hearing on the DEIR was held to receive oral comments on the document. County planners and an environmental consultant have been receiving written comments as well. The next step involves responding to all the comments and bringing a final EIR back in front of the Board of Supervisor, who at that time will consider the overall merits of the project as well, likely this Fall.
That hearing will mark the second time the Board of Supervisors has been asked to approve the Belden Barns Project. By a 4-1 vote in November of 2014, the board approved the project. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin voted against issuing the use permit.
A group of Sonoma Mountain road residents, the Friends of Sonoma Mountain, soon filed a lawsuit against the county. In June of 2015, a settlement was reached, which required that an EIR be conducted. The settlement set aside the board’s initial approval of the project and dismissed the lawsuit “with prejudice,” a legal term barring Friends of Sonoma Mountain from suing again on the same claims.
Source: The Kenwood Press – Belden Barns environmental review questioned
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa will maintain the other aspects of its water conservation program, including rebates for water-saving devices, and will “continue to ask our customers to keep up their efficient water use behavior,” Burke said.
For most Sonoma County residents, the days of strict water savings mandates could be over by summer, a result of brimful reservoirs and a dramatic shift this week in state water conservation rules.
Santa Rosa and five other Sonoma County water providers should be excused from state-ordered water-saving standards as soon as next month under California’s updated conservation campaign, tailored for the first time to match regulations to the reality of regional water supplies, officials said Friday.
With the region’s two major reservoirs nearly full from above-average rainfall, six local agencies that serve more than 340,000 customers meet the new requirement for demonstrating a sufficient water supply over a three-year period under drought conditions.
“It’s good news,” said Brad Sherwood of the Sonoma County Water Agency, the water wholesaler that serves the local agencies. “Our Russian River water supply system is not in a drought condition.”
The water agency released calculations this week showing that the local water suppliers can balance water demand and supply over three more dry years, thereby gaining exemptions from the conservation standards imposed 10 months ago by the State Water Resources Control Board. In addition to Santa Rosa, the affected municipal systems include Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Windsor, Sonoma and Valley of the Moon Water District.
Local water suppliers that cannot meet demand will be assigned water-savings targets equal to their shortfall, according to the revised conservation program adopted by the water board on Wednesday.
“It does appear we have an adequate water supply for the next three years,” said Jennifer Burke, deputy director of water resources for Santa Rosa.
Read more at: Mandatory water savings may soon be over for most Sonoma County residents | The Press Democrat
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
With two Russian River reservoirs brimful of runoff from a prolonged storm, the North Bay region is nearing an end to its multi-year drought, a water management official said Friday.
“It looks like a March miracle,” said Brad Sherwood, spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency, which supplies water to 600,000 customers in Sonoma and Marin counties. “Our water supply system hasn’t looked this good in more than three years.”
Lake Sonoma west of Healdsburg, the region’s largest reservoir, was at 107 percent of capacity for this time of year, and Lake Mendocino, the far smaller reservoir near Ukiah, was at 117 percent, with both lakes the fullest they have been in early March since 2012.
The atmospheric river that delivered the latest rainfall offered not only significant drought relief, but also relented Friday afternoon, offsetting flood forecasts and giving the ground a chance to absorb water, Sherwood said.
The Russian River water system is independent from the network of major reservoirs and canals that serve most of California, which remains under mandatory water conservation measures.
Read more at: Storm fills North Bay reservoirs, easing region’s drought | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Supplemented by local funding, the venture aims to boost stream flows and groundwater and clean up the Russian River and its tributaries.
A coalition of Sonoma County resource agencies has been awarded $8 million in federal funds to advance an ambitious series of conservation projects intended to improve water supply and quality and enhance wildlife habitat on local agricultural lands.
The efforts will take in vineyards and farmland and aim to reduce erosion, boost stream flows and groundwater and clean up the Russian River and its tributaries while restoring habitat for imperiled fish and wildlife species.Sonoma County’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District is the lead agency and will contribute $14 million of the $15.8 million local match for the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.
Most of the funding will go toward the purchase of conservation easements on farmland along key stream corridors and in areas where flood plains and groundwater basins can benefit.
One objective is to fortify the water supply for growers and wildlife in the face of drought and amid the uncertainty posed by climate change.
Read more at: Sonoma County coalition awarded $8 million grant for water conservation work
Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Recent rainstorms have swelled Lake Mendocino, reopening the reservoir to motor boats for the first time since August, swallowing islands raised by the drought and bringing fresh hope to ranchers and water officials.
By Thursday afternoon, the lake had reached 98 percent of capacity for this time of the year, when some space is reserved in the reservoir to help with flood prevention.
Once the level hits 100 percent, dam managers must increase releases to keep it at that level, unless they are given permission to hold back additional supplies.
In March, the reservoir’s storage capacity will rise from 68,400 acre-feet to about 110,000 acre-feet, a change aimed at maintaining adequate water supplies throughout the dry season for people, fish and agriculture along the Russian River. The key to recovery from the drought is filling the reservoir to its maximum capacity in the spring.
Read more at: Lake Mendocino nears winter capacity; Lake Sonoma close | The Press Democrat