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
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
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
Many at the hearing said they were mainly concerned that the new rules do not address water usage by rural residents or farmers, over-pumping of some of the county’s groundwater basins or the impact of the drought on sensitive plant and animal habitat in riparian areas.
Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved sweeping new limits on well drilling, making the most significant changes to the county’s water well ordinance in nearly 40 years.
The revised ordinance establishes well-construction standards to prevent groundwater contamination, incorporates new protective buffer zones along streams and requires new wells be equipped with monitoring devices to measure groundwater levels in the future.
The rules also prohibit drilling new wells into streams and wetlands and require that property owners pay a $150 annual fee to test water, ensuring it is safe for drinking.
The updates, made amid California’s historic drought, are meant partly to prevent new wells from sucking streams dry and diminishing connected underground supplies. The rules also are intended to shield streams from sediment and other pollution that can be unleashed during well construction.
The revised regulations, however, apply only to new wells and do not cover the estimated 40,000 wells that now exist outside of city limits. The action also does not establish a limit on the number of new wells permitted by the county or require any reductions of water usage.
Supervisors called the updates overdue, though board members said they were concerned the new rules did not sufficiently address the depletion of aquifers and streams amid the drought.
Read more at: In bid to conserve streams, aquifers, Sonoma County | The Press Democrat
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors Monday adopted a hard-won compromise between farmers and environmental groups, advancing protective buffer zones along 3,200 miles of streams and rivers in the county.
“This is a historic day,” Board Chairman David Rabbitt said. “It wasn’t easy to get here.”
Supervisors unanimously approved the measure shielding 82,000 acres of land outside city limits, most of it on private property, from future farming and development.
The decision followed a four-hour public hearing, where 25 speakers from a standing-room-only crowd called the once-controversial policy now workable.
“This has been a long process,” said Bob Anderson, executive director for United Winegrowers for Sonoma County, who has been heavily involved in negotiating new rules. “It is pretty amazing in this county to have all interests singing from the same sheet of music.”
Officials said the buffer zones along waterways throughout the county will provide critical ecosystem functions, including groundwater recharge, water quality, river bank stability and habitat for imperiled fish species.
Most of the speakers were in favor of the proposal and applauded the compromise. The new rules were first approved under the county’s general plan, adopted six years ago, and will now be aligned with county zoning codes, officials said.
“For people who violate the law, I can go after them now,” said Tennis Wick, director for the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department. “Yesterday I couldn’t.”
The new countywide ordinance prevents property owners from cultivating land or building on land that is 50 to 200 feet from rivers and streams. At issue Monday were details in the proposal, including where to draw the edge of the setback zone, vehicle turnarounds for farming operations and whether to allow wells within buffer zones.
via Unanimous county vote approves stream setbacks | The Press Democrat.
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s effort to implement one of its most controversial land use policies — protective buffer zones along 3,200 miles of rivers and streams — has reignited a pitched debate between environmental organizations, farmers and private property rights activists about how to best protect and manage waterways throughout the county.
The dispute is fundamentally about the reach of government regulation onto private land to safeguard public resources, including water quality and wildlife. The debate has been closely monitored by environmental and agriculture groups, and county officials have acknowledged that the outcome will have far-reaching implications.
Read more via Stream protections vs. private property rights in Sonoma | The Press Democrat.
Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sales of water storage tanks have spiked on the North Coast as rural residents, already faced with declining wells, springs and reservoirs, brace for what could be another drought year.
“They’re hoarding water,” said Rich Hutchison, a plumbing and electrical buyer for Friedman’s home improvement stores.
Water storage tank sales increased by about 40 percent at Friedman’s stores in December, he said. The Ukiah store alone sold 20 tanks in December, a 50 percent increase from the same time last year, Hutchison said.
via Dry conditions lead some on North Coast to store water | The Press Democrat.