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Groundwater fees go to Supes

By Christian Kallen

The process to find a way to fund the three Groundwater Sustainability Agencies in Sonoma County finished an initial round of community meetings at the end of March – the Sonoma Valley meeting was March 29. The next step is a hearing with the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, April 26.

The community review process introduced two primary options for funding the GSA – one that relies on fees and one on taxes. The fee option is further divided into three choices: a fee based on how much groundwater is pumped (only applied to groundwater users); a fee based on the number of wells (only applied to groundwater users); and thirdly, a fee based on the benefit received (which would apply to all parcels in the basin). The tax option would be a parcel tax applied to all properties; the tax option would need to be approved by the voters, a process that might leave the GSAs without funding for up to a year.

“There are pros and cons to each approach,” said Ann DuBay of Sonoma Water, who serves as the current administrator for both Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley GSAs. “So, in April, the Board will be weighing in on which type of fee or tax it would like to pursue.”

Sonoma Water Agency is one of several that have been supporting the county GSAs in its first couple years of development. But the county’s three Groundwater Sustainability Agencies are now faced with self-funding, effective the first of July, 2022. The fees or taxes agreed upon will be supplemented by additional grants. Support that must be resourced.

Community participation in the GSA meetings was strong, with about 70 participating in the Sonoma Valley meeting, 50 in the Petaluma meeting, and almost 190 in the Santa Rosa meeting. ThemeetingswereheldviaZoom,andthough some questions were fielded in the shared Zoom screen, many more appeared in the live chat Q& A during the meeting that were not available in the post-meeting video replay.

Following the Board’s direction on April 26, another round of similar community meetings is planned – the Sonoma Valley date is May 5. DuBay explained the second round of hearings: “Outreach is not required for the fees, although state law requires a public hearing for adoption of fees. But the GSA Boards all are strong advocates of transparency and education, especially since groundwater management is so new locally (and statewide).”

Following the additional round of public input, the agencies will present their final funding plans to the Board of Supervisors in June, which approval expected before the FY 2022-2023 begins on July 1. Further information on the process and groundwater sustainability can be found at sonomavalleygroundwater.org.

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