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Photos: Will Carruthers
Photos: Will Carruthers

Board Nears Decision on Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Fee as Meetings Continue

Mar 7, 2019

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Representatives of a new local water agency continued to present information about a proposed fee on well owners within the Santa Rosa Plain this week as a final decision on the fee approaches.

The fee is being considered due to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), a state law passed in 2014 that requires local governments to create Groundwater Sustainable Agencies (GSAs) to manage water use in certain groundwater basins across the state.

In Sonoma County, three basins are regulated under the law: the Santa Rosa Plain, the Petaluma Valley Plain and the Sonoma Valley Plain.

As the Gazette reported in February, the Santa Rosa Plain GSA was established in 2017 and was funded by local agencies for the first two years. For the next three years, the agency will be funded by a fee on the water users called the Groundwater Sustainability Fee.

Community members attend a Jan. 30 meeting.

After 2022, the fee will be based on calculations made during the Groundwater Sustainability Plan process.

If the local agency does not create a local fee structure, the state will take over the process and impose significantly higher fees, according to public officials.

“We have a law, we want to make the best of it. That’s our goal here,” Santa Rosa Plain GSA Administrator Andy Rodgers said at a Wednesday, Jan. 30 meeting at the Finley Center.

For instance, the agency estimates that the fee will cost rural well owners between $8 and $13 per year.The state would charge $100 per parcel each year if it intervened in the process.

Well owners who also use city water systems will pay between $1 and $3 per year under the GSA's proposed fee structure.

Rodgers said that the agency is presenting a range because they have not yet decided on a final fee and do not want to announce a fee that is significantly higher or lower than what they projected.

The Groundwater Sustainability Plan process

The process has been met with suspicion by some rural residents because groundwater was previously free for well owners. Other residents are supportive of the goal of the new agencies, to achieve"sustainable" groundwater management across the state by 2042.

Rodgers stressed that the new agency is not interested in putting meters on rural water owners' wells. In fact, SGMA does not allow the agency to monitor wells, Rodgers said at a March 6 meeting in Rohnert Park.

According to GSA estimates, rural residents use 25 percent of the groundwater in the basin while city agencies use 37 percent and agricultural users consume 33 percent of the water.

Agricultural users will pay a fee based on the number irrigated acres multiplied by an estimated usage rate based on the type of crop. Water agencies for cities within the plain, including Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, will pay an annual fee based on their usage.

"We knew this was coming and it's factored into the rates the City Council set a year and a half ago," Rohnert Park's City Engineer Mary Grace Pawson said. "We do not anticipate this particular new mandate is going result in a rate increase for our customers."

FINANCIAL HARDSHIP GRANTS CONSIDERED

The Board is also considering creating a grant program to allow small-scale farmers to waive the new fee if it constitutes a financial hardship.

"We're working on it," Rodgers said Wednesday, noting that there are some legal questions about implementing a grant program.

A map of the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Basin

CASINO CONCERNS

Other members of the public have questioned the amount commercial water users, including the Graton Casino, will pay for their groundwater usage.

The Graton Casino will not be required to pay an annual fee due to the legal status of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. 

"[The tribe] is a sovereign entity. SGMA is a state law, and legally the state cannot access a fee [on the casino]," Jay Jasperse,the plan manager for the Santa Rosa Plain GSA.

The casino has negotiated a separate groundwater use fee with the county and is represented on the GSA Advisory Committee, according to Jasperse.

UPCOMING MEETINGS

The Santa Rosa Plain Board will meet twice in the next month to discuss the public meetings and consider approving the fee. Both meetings will be held at the City of Santa Rosa's Utility Field Office, 35 Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa

Thursday,  March 14, 1:00pm - 3:30pm

Thursday,  April 11, 1:00pm - 3:30pm


For more information on the process, read the Gazette's previous coverage or visit the Santa Rosa Plain's website.

Comments:

Mar 15, 2019
VIA EMAIL: The Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) Board of Directors met yesterday to review the proposed fee schedules, a Registration Program, and a number of other issues. In a surprise turn of events, the two Supervisors on the Board suggested a change to the payment schedule that has been being discussed at public workshops and in recent Board and Advisory Committee meetings. A similar proposal had been made last year, but it stalled at that time. I sent summaries of the fee structure that had been proposed prior to this. Here are two links that may help you sort it out. http://santarosaplaingroundwater.org/wp-content/uploads/Rate-and-Fee-Study-FAQs.pdf The presentation at the recent March public workshop: http://santarosaplaingroundwater.org/wp-content/uploads/Community-Meeting-PPT_V4_animated_ada.pdf Yesterday the City representatives expressed concern about their obligations and questioned the fairness to their constituents. As has been true in the Workshops, several domestic well users and a (very) few agricultural interests stated their objection to the metrics used to quantify their use (upon which the amounts were based). Mike Marini, speaking for his interests in the winery industry questioned the 3 years of expenses because the funds will primarily be spent on writing the Plan, not on implementation - which means monies will be spent on what he called administration. Staff reported on the turnout at the workshops being primarily “de minimus” (residential/limited use) water users who spoke passionately in opposition to paying for water use - giving a variety of reasons and positions. Supervisor Zane and Chair/Supervisor Hopkins offered an alternative. It was not detailed, but the gist was that the County might pay the portion that is proposed to be allocated to “de minimus” and small Ag operations. I was not clear if it would also offset large agricultural water users. The difference being that the larger Ag operations are often monitoring their water use so data is available for their use. The motion that carried included continuing to flesh out the currently proposed fee structure, and to further explore the way the County (as representatives of us in the unincorporated areas) might functionally and legally cover the costs that would be allocated to lesser water users in the unincorporated areas within the Santa Rosa Basin for the next Phase when the Plan is developed. Upcoming Meetings (current schedule): April 11, 2019 SRP GSA meeting to review groundwater user fees Public Noticing June 13, 2019 SRP GSA Public Hearing for fee adoption and Approval of Resolution 2nd reading of Groundwater User Registration Program July Implement Groundwater User Registration Program August 1, 2019 Deadline to submit fee schedule to County Assessor Stay tuned, be involved. ~ Rue Furch
- Vesta Copestakes

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