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Santa Rosa - Sonoma County - Groundwater Basin

Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Meeting Coverage

Feb 1, 2019
by Will Carruthers

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Representatives of a new local water agency presented information about a state-required fee on well owners within the Santa Rosa Plain to pay for a new groundwater regulation program.

The fee is required under 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.

If the GSA does not gather fees, complete its report or meet its sustainability goals, the state will take over the process, requiring significantly higher fees.

LEARN MORE about the proposal: http://santarosaplaingroundwater.org/finances/fee/

Here is LINK to a PDF of the complete presentation:http://santarosaplaingroundwater.org/wp-content/uploads/01.30.19_Community-Meeting-Presentation_ada.pdf

Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Basin and Land Use MAP

“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 the Wednesday, Jan. 30 meeting at the Finley Center.

California was one of the last states to regulate groundwater usage, leading to concerns that the state’s supply could be permanently depleted or contaminated. In some  regions of the state, particularly the Central Valley, groundwater is being depleted faster than it can be replenished leading to sinking ground in heavily farmed areas.

Each GSA is required to create a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) by 2022. The GSP will identify a sustainable amount of groundwater use and outline methods for achieving sustainable water usage within 20 years.

The GSA will spend the next three years developing the plan with input from the community and stakeholders at public meetings, according to Jay Jasperse, the plan manager for the Santa Rosa Plain GSA.

“It will not just be a bunch engineers and scientists coming up with these numbers, it will be an iterative process to see what we all can agree to locally,” Jasperse said.

The Groundwater Sustainability Plan process

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, any idea that has been met with suspicion by some well owners.

Unlike the Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley GSAs, the Santa Rosa Plain GSA opted not to continue charging local agencies until 2022. The GSA also decided not to add a ballot measure to an upcoming ballot because the cost it would take - approximately $300,000, according to staff - and the risk of failing to get two-thirds support for the measure, leaving the agency in debt.

The Santa Rosa Plain GSA received a $1 million grant to fund some of the GSP work over the next three years but still needs to raise $337,000 per year to pay for the planning process.

After 2022, the fee will be based on calculations made during the GSP process.

Groundwater User Registration Program

Some speakers at the event raised concerns that the agency would attempt to monitor water usage on their property by requiring meters on all wells. Staff sought to sooth such concerns.

“We are asking for information, we are not going anywhere near metering,” Rodgers said during his presentation. “We are asking you for information about your use and your well. The information that comes back to us will help us understand the system.”

According to Rodgers, the GSA will send residents the information it already has collected about local wells by working with local agencies and then ask basin residents for corrections. For instance, if the GSA believes a residents has a well but they do not, the GSA would like to know, Rodgers said. 

Sustainability Fees

Fees on groundwater users are based on usage - for those who use water through a metered system or municipal system - or an estimate if they are using a well without a meter.

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.The usage of recycled water and surface water will be deducted from the fee.

The GSA estimated that rural residential groundwater users consume an average of 466 gallons per year. Some commenters said that they had metered their water usage and found that they used significantly less than that rate.

Rural residential well owners will pay between $8 and $13 per parcel per year.The state would charge $100 per parcel each year if it intervened in the process.

Some residents speaking at the meeting were critical of the fees levied on rural water users, saying that agricultural users should pay a larger piece of the total because they use water for profit.

GSA staff said that while they would not adjust rural residential rates based on usage - if a user could provide proof of their usage - they are setting up a system to waive the annual fee IF a well owner can prove the fee will cause them financial hardship.

The GSA board will meet at 1 PM on February 14 at35 Stony Point Rd., Santa Rosa.

For more information, visit the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater SustainabilityAgency's website.

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