Groundwater board to hold its first public meeting
Opportunity for public to comment, meet officers
A new body tasked with managing groundwater use in Sonoma Valley has been formed and will hold its first public meeting on June 8, 5:30 p.m., at Vintage House in Sonoma.
The members of the new six-seat Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) board are Councilmember David Cook (representing the City of Sonoma); Mike Sangiacomo (representing North Bay Water District); Mark Heneveld (representing Valley of the Moon Water District); Vickie Mulas (representing Sonoma Resource Conservation District); Sonoma County First District Supervisor Susan Gorin; and Sonoma County Water Agency Director (and Sonoma County Supervisor) David Rabbitt. Alternates for these seats have been named as well.
The meeting will be an opportunity to elect officers and receive public comment on the formation of the new groundwater agency. The Sonoma Valley GSA must be operational by a June 30 deadline, per state law.
While some of the entities on the GSA Board are familiar, the Sonoma Resource Conservation District (RCD), the North Bay Water District, and the Valley of the Moon Water District are less well known.
Sonoma RCD was the result of a merger between two other RCDs in 2013. The nonprofit partners with landowners to promote watershed-based stewardship of natural resources. It is one of 97 RCDs in California, which were formed originally as soil conservation districts in the late 1930s, partially in response to the Dust Bowl. Sonoma RCD has a seven-member board of directors and employs a staff of 13. It is funded by local tax money and grants.
The North Bay Water District (NBWD) was formed in the early 1960s with the aim of securing a water supply from Lake Berryessa that could be used for irrigation by landowners in the southern Sonoma and Petaluma valley hayfields. Although the plan was never realized, the district has remained in operation (holding regular meetings and filing annual reports with the state), but it has never provided any services and doesn’t currently collect fees. The district’s boundaries run approximately from Hwy. 121 south to Hwy. 37 and from the Napa County line west to Hwy. 116 in Petaluma. NBWD is a rare special district known as a landowner-voter district. Water code rules enable the district to conduct its own elections. It currently has a seven-member board of directors which meets monthly at the Schellville Fire Station.
The Valley of the Moon Water District (VOMWD) was formed in 1960 and provides water from the Sonoma County Water Agency to approximately 23,000 people from the Trinity Oaks subdivision, located north of the town of Glen Ellen, to the Temelec subdivision located at the southern end of the Sonoma Valley, and encompasses a total area of approximately 7,500 acres. VOMWD charges a fee for water service and is currently undertaking a new rate study. VOMWD has a five-member board of directors, elected at-large, and employs five staff.
Use the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters’ district look up tool at secure.sonoma-county.org/vote/districtlookup.aspx?sid=1070 to see if you live within any of these special districts.
The Sonoma Valley GSA is one of three GSAs that must be formed in Sonoma County by the June 30 deadline, each responsible for managing future groundwater sustainability in the three state-identified groundwater basins: Santa Rosa Plain, Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley. The boundaries of the Sonoma Valley basin encompass approximately 70 square miles from Dunbar Road south to San Pablo Bay. It does not currently include Kenwood or Oakmont. It also excludes the upland areas that have been part of Sonoma Valley’s existing voluntary Groundwater Management Program, in place since 2007. The voluntary technical advisory committee is working to draft recommendations to pass along to the new GSA board in hopes that the existing voluntary program can be merged with any new sustainability plan developed by the GSA.
After its formation, the GSA will be required to develop and adopt a Groundwater Sustainability Plan by Jan. 31, 2022, and reach “sustainability”– a benchmark as yet to be defined – by 2042. Specific decisions could include regulations on things like well metering, groundwater extraction, or new well construction, or measures to fund the GSA’s work, such as fees, assessments or taxes. Failure to reach “sustainability” would result in the state stepping in and loss of local control over groundwater management – a great motivator for all stakeholders involved.
Creating and carrying out a sustainability plan will cost money, but how much and how it will be raised is uncertain. Fear not, if the GSA chooses to impose some sort of fee structure, a fee study will need to be completed first, with opportunity for public input. “De minimis” well users, those who use two-acre feet or less per year for domestic purposes (an average suburban family household is generally assumed to use one acre-foot annually), cannot, under the law, be subjected to well-metering or extraction fees, but could be required to pay a general fee instead.
Year one start-up costs for the Sonoma Valley GSA are estimated at $470,000. Each member entity has agreed to chip in (whether through monetary or in-kind personnel loans) varying amounts. First-year financial commitments are $20,000 for Sonoma RCD, $20,000 for NBWD, $97,767 for the City of Sonoma, $97,767 for VOMWD, $117,233 for the County of Sonoma and $117,233 for the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA).
Those costs multiply based on the number of GSA boards on which an entity sits. The SCWA, the County of Sonoma and Sonoma RCD all sit on all three GSA boards – one in each basin. Sonoma RCD will be raising their $60,000 financial commitment via private fundraising and providing in-kind administration.
NBWD also sits on the Petaluma Valley GSA. With less than $33,000 in the bank in April, the district opted to accept a grant from the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance to meet its $40,000 commitment. The Alliance is a nonprofit with 500 members who “share a mission to promote awareness of Sonoma Valley’s grapes, wine and history as the birthplace of the California wine industry.”
The VOMWD will use money from a “stabilization fund” (savings for non-budgeted emergencies) to cover its $20,000 first-year commitment. The water district’s general manager, Dan Muelrath, will also be serving as the GSAs interim administrator until a permanent one is found.
Roughly one third of the money will be due by July 31 from all entities. Members hope that by year two the GSA operations will become self-sustaining, although how that will be done has not been decided yet.
Once the Sonoma Valley GSA is up and running, it will create an advisory committee to provide input and feedback to the GSA Board on things like policies, regulations, fees, programs and capital projects. The advisory committee is envisioned as being made up of six at-large members appointed by each GSA Board member and five interest-based members appointed by the GSA Board as a whole. These interest-based members will include representatives from an environmental organization with a presence in Sonoma Valley, the business community, agriculture, a disadvantaged community (Temelec or the Springs area, for example), and a rural residential well owner. Details on the application process and deadlines will be given at the June 8 meeting.
Except for this first meeting, which will be at Vintage House, 246 1st St. E in Sonoma, the Sonoma Valley GSA will meet every other month on the fourth Monday, 2-5 p.m. at Valley of the Moon Water District office, 19039 Bay St., Sonoma.
Visit www.sonomacountygroundwater.org to stay up to date on GSA information and policy.
Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.