Apr 22, 2019
by Will Carruthers
After months of community meetings, representatives of a new local water agency revisited early discussions about whether small well water users within the Santa Rosa Plain should be required to pay a fee to fund a state-mandated study.
At a Thursday, April 11 meeting of the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency’s Board of Directors, Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, acting in her role as chair of the GSA board, proposed an alternative plan to pay for an initial study of groundwater use in the Santa Rosa Plain.
Instead of charging rural well owners for the next three years to pay for an initial study of groundwater conditions and usage, a report known as the Groundwater Sustainability Plan, Hopkins suggested the county should help cover the costs of those users.
“The county is currently paying $143,000 to the Petaluma basin and $117,000 to the Sonoma basin this year,” Hopkins said. “That is really because the county recognizes that there is a common good in developing sustainable groundwater management throughout the county.”
Hopkins’ plan calls for eliminating a proposed well registration program, which Hopkins said she fears will “incur significant costs.” Hopkins said that cities in the Santa Rosa Plain might pay less under her plan because the elimination of the well registration program would lower costs.
The GSA is required as part of the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, legislation requiring local governments to create agencies to monitor groundwater levels and achieve sustainable use levels.
The law requires that local governments around the state create agencies to monitor and improve groundwater use in basins at moderate or high risk of six “undesirable outcomes.” Those outcomes include depleted aquifers and surface water sources, contaminated water, and other risk factors.
In Sonoma County, the state has required the formation of three GSAs: the Santa Rosa Plain, Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley. The Santa Rosa Plain is the only local GSA to propose raising a fee on small users to pay for the formation of the GSP.
The plan was not universally popular among the Board of Directors. Susan Harvey, who represents Cotati, raised concerns that the plan would increase the cost burden on small cities by requiring them to pass on costs to water users and that Hopkins’ plan had come at the last minute after years of similar discussions.
“We have had this discussion for two years and we were set to go with this [plan] a year ago,” Harvey said.
The board agreed vote on Hopkins’ funding proposal at their June 13 meeting after GSA staff have studied the idea more deeply.
The City of Sebastopol, represented at the meeting by Mayor Neysa Hinton and Council Member Una Glass, asked to join the GSA’s Board of Directors late due to a recent change in the state-defined boundaries of the Santa Rosa Plain.
Although Sebastopol was represented on the GSA’s advisory committee, the city has not paid fees towards the formation of the GSA because the city was not within the boundaries of the Santa Rosa Plain and has not been represented on the GSA’s board of directors.
In February, the state agency managing the GSAs changed the boundaries of the Santa Rosa Plain, according to Andy Rogers, the GSA’s administrator.
“Really we’re talking about what is an equitable contribution [for Sebastopol to make] recognizing what’s been built here and the benefits of being part of the board,” Roger said.
Hinton, the city’s mayor, requested that the city pay a reduced fee to join the board because of its late entry. The Sebastopol City Council was “sticker shocked” when they saw it would cost $119,000 upfront to join the GSA, according to Hinton.
The GSA Board of Directors ultimately directed the GSA’s staff to offer Sebastopol a pro-rated entry fee – approximately $71,000, three-fifths of the total fee – and draft a formal procedure for other cities that might try to join the GSA in the future.
Hinton said she would present the pro-rated fee to the Sebastopol City Council for their consideration and return to the GSA Board at a later meeting.
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