Groundwater Board puts pieces in place
Top concerns are funding, drafting sustainability plan
Sarah C. Phelps
When you turn on your kitchen faucet, do you know where that water came from? If you live within city limits, there’s a good chance most of it came from the Russian River – surface water re-routed through the Sonoma County Water Agency filtration facilities. If you live in unincorporated Sonoma Valley, there’s a better chance it came mostly from a well – either your own well or a well owned by a municipal water supplier. With an estimated 2,200 wells, the Sonoma Valley basin has a higher density of wells than the Santa Rosa Plain or Petaluma basins. This means there are many straws stuck into the groundwater resources of the alluvial basin beneath Sonoma Valley.
Still, it seemed to catch the new six-member Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) by surprise when they received 39 applications for only six open seats on its Groundwater Advisory Committee. The Sonoma Valley GSA received the largest number of applicants out of all three basins, even though Sonoma Valley has the smallest population by comparison. The Petaluma basin is struggling to find any qualified applicants to fill the seats on its Advisory Committee.
At its inaugural Aug. 28 meeting, GSA Board Chairwoman Susan Gorin thanked all the applicants and praised the engagement and education of Sonoma Valley residents.
The six members selected to the Advisory Committee are wine grape grower Matt Stornetta (representing agriculture interests), Sonoma Ecology Center biologist Caitlin Cornwall (representing environmental interests), Helge Bruckner (representing business), Norman Gilroy (representing rural residential well owners), and environmental consultant Vicki Hill and Kenneth Johnson as at-large community members. Gilroy is a long-time Sonoma Valley resident and former SVCAC commissioner. Bruckner has been involved in the development of Sonoma’s Eighth Street East “wine corridor” through a series of limited liability companies, one of which, Sequoia Warehousing, recently completed a 134,500-square-foot wine processing warehouse near Schellville. Gilroy, Cornwall, and Hill sat on the advisory panel for the voluntary groundwater management program that has been in place in Sonoma Valley since 2007. The new, state-mandated groundwater management program will eclipse that voluntary program and its advisory panel.
The remaining seats on the GSA Advisory Committee will be appointed by the agencies represented on the GSA Board – the City of Sonoma, North Bay Water District, Valley of the Moon Water District, Sonoma Resource Conservation District, County of Sonoma and the Sonoma County Water Agency. Those appointments are expected by the board’s next meeting in October.
Top priority for the Advisory Committee, when it begins meeting this fall, will be to understand the current conditions of groundwater in Sonoma Valley – possibly by refining how its use is being monitored – and using that baseline to begin drafting recommendations for a groundwater sustainability plan, which will need to be approved by the GSA Board by 2022, per state requirements.
Money and how to fund the development of the sustainability plan was of top concern at the meeting. “How do we raise the revenue we need to raise to do what we want to do?” asked Gorin. The state law gives GSAs the authority to assess fees, require monitoring on wells, and implement capital projects and other measures to maintain the health of regional groundwater supplies.
Similar to the Petaluma GSA and Santa Rosa Plain GSA, the Sonoma Valley GSA’s first-year operating budget of $470,000 has been culled from monetary and in-kind personnel donations from the six agencies seated on the GSA board. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has made approximately $86.3 million available to every GSA in the state (with a potential of up to $1 million for each basin), which could offset the annual monetary contributions shouldered by each member agency. At the meeting, the board authorized Jay Jasperse, director of groundwater management for the Sonoma County Water Agency, to apply for the grant. DWR will notify recipients in early 2018. If not a recipient, the GSA must find alternative sources of income, the bulk of which would likely come from member agencies, who may then turn over the cost burden to their ratepayers.
“At the end of the day, if an agency has to put in money [to the GSA], like Sonoma Resource Conservation District or the City of Sonoma, this will be ratepayer money,” clarified Gorin. GSA Administrator Dan Muelrath reported that that would be true for the first year of the GSA’s operation, but by the third year, the goal is to have steady revenue coming from a different source. At its October board meeting, the GSA board expects to approve a contract with a rate consultant for an initial rate study.
The Sonoma Valley GSA meets every other month on Mondays at 4 p.m. at the Valley of the Moon Water District board room, 19039 Bay St., Sonoma.
Stay up to date on developments at sonomacountygroundwater.org.