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SV Groundwater Sustainability Agency talks revenue

By Christian Kallen

Most of the May 25 meeting of the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency (SVGSA) considered options for revenue generation, either from fees, parcel taxes, or a hybrid model of a combination of the two. There was some discomfort with all revenue models, especially the notion that “member agencies” should continue to pay dues to support the SVGSA. Such agencies include the water districts (Valley of the Moon, North Bay Water, and the City of Sonoma), as well as the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Supervisor Susan Gorin raised the possibility that the county Board of Supervisors might authorize funding for a significant amount of next year’s budget. While she speculated on several such scenarios, it did not seem likely that full county funding was coming to the agency without fees of some sort levied on the groundwater-using customers or the general public through a modest parcel tax.

One flash point came when Gorin suggested that county support for the groundwater agency might entail other reduced services in Sonoma Valley, such as road repair. Rabbitt pushed back, saying, “I think it’s really unfair to say it’s either paving roads or paying for water rates.” While Gorin acknowledged she “oversimplified,” she stuck to the point that choices had to be made if an allocation were expected from the county.

In any budget, revenue sources have to be identified. Aside from $200,000 from Proposition 68 (the Parks, Environment, and Water Bond Act of 2018), any reliable, legal, and acceptable fees and taxes continue to be problematic. “We still have to figure out how we are going to finance the entire budget, even though we may not expend it all,” pointed out Gorin.

Slowly the board worked their way toward agreeing on a “slowdown” operation and applying oneyear fees to help offset it, but once again Rabbitt was on hand to question the developing consensus.

“Well, I’m not sure what ‘slow down’ refers to because adopting a one-year fee is not necessarily slowing down. I’m saying slow down on the adoption of the fees and rates because we’re not quite ready yet, we don’t have the data … Whatever the county is going to do, or not do, should be known to this body before we set those fees.”

Steve Rogers of the Valley of the Moon Water District, demurred, saying not to have fees was “just kicking the can down the road. I think you have to, at some point, just say, hey, we’re going to do fees.” He then offered a motion to consider “option one” of three budget proposals, which would endorse slowing down to a minimal operating budget and adopting a one-year fee.

Scott Morris of Sonoma Water pointed out the necessary action was really to give staff “some direction so they can bring back a more refined ordinance proposal and resolution for the next meeting … I just want to be clear, you’re not voting on whether to approve the fee tonight.”

Though the reluctant consensus was to approve that recommendation, for Rabbitt it was a troubled “aye” as he continued to question the wisdom of applying fees without full data-driven justification.

“There are no solutions; I think that’s one thing we all can agree on,” said Gorin. “But we have to move forward, and we have some bills to cover.”

Jay Jasperse retires

Jay Jasperse, one of Sonoma County’s most experienced water engineers, announced his retirement last month from his position as chief engineer and groundwater manager for the (Sonoma Water), which includes the job as plan manager of the SVGSA.

Jasperse has held the position since 2017 and will retire on July 1. Prior to that, he had worked for the California Department of Food and Agriculture and as an environmental engineering consultant specializing in groundwater resources; he is widely published in that field. He has also been on the board of the Sonoma Ecology Center.

To no one’s surprise, his replacement will be Marcus Trotta, Sonoma Water’s principal hydrologist. Jasperse nominated him in the May 25 meeting of the SVGSA, and the board voted unanimously to accept Jasperse’s resignation and appoint Trotta as the new plan manager.

Jasperse has a long history with Trotta, as he explained in the May 25 meeting. “On a personal note, I’ve known Marcus for many years. I hired him when he was young and just out of college in the ’90s, when I was in the private industry, and then I hired him again to bring him over from private industry to work at Sonoma Water,” he said. “So I have a long history with him and wholeheartedly recommend his appointment to this position.”

In a round of appreciation for Jasperse and congratulations to Trotta, board member and Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt (representing the North Bay Water District) said in regard to turning over the influential role, “I also can’t help but think that it might be the passing of the hot potato as well.”

The next meeting of the SVGSA board will be on June 27; the citizens’ advisory committee meets on July 12. For more information, go to sonomavalleygroundwater. org.