Well registration is coming to Sonoma Valley
The Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA), the agency tasked by the state to develop a groundwater sustainability plan for southern Sonoma Valley by January 2022, has decided to participate in the development of a well registration program for all groundwater users in the Sonoma Valley basin, a 70-square mile area extending from Slattery Road in Glen Ellen south to San Pablo Bay. The basin does not currently include Kenwood or Oakmont.
The registration program will help the GSA fill in data gaps about the number of wells extracting groundwater in southern Sonoma Valley, explained Ann Dubay, administrator for the Sonoma Valley GSA, at the July 22 GSA Board of Directors meeting. The GSA needs this data in order to better understand the current groundwater conditions – and plan for future management. It is important to note that the basin boundaries encompass only the valley floor and do not extend up to higher elevations.
Sixty percent of all water demands in the Sonoma basin are estimated to be met by local groundwater. Imported water (from the Russian River via the Sonoma aqueduct), surface water, and recycled water supplement that.
Permit Sonoma administers all permits for wells within both unincorporated and incorporated areas of the groundwater basin (and the county as a whole), but most wells dug before the 1970s did not require permits. Most modern water wells are permitted through a ministerial process, but discretionary applications are required in certain hydrogeological areas. Discretionary permits require hydrogeologic reports and sometimes an aquifer pumping test to establish the availability of an adequate water supply. Last year, preliminary data showed there are about 12,487 taxable parcels within the basin boundaries, but only about 1,706 known wells.
The Santa Rosa Plain GSA, which is developing its own sustainability plan for the area extending from Santa Rosa west to Sebastopol and from Windsor south to Cotati, is also moving forward with a well registration program, in addition to assessing a groundwater use fee.
In June, the Santa Rosa Plain GSA board approved a fee of $19.90 per acre-foot of groundwater pumped annually for all groundwater users in the basin. An acre-foot of water equals about 326,000 gallons.
The fee is calculated on actual or estimated groundwater extraction of all users, but for the next three years will only be assessed on major municipal groundwater extractors – the cities of Cotati, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Sebastopol; the Town of Windsor; and Sonoma Water – thanks to a $240,000 yearly contribution from Sonoma County and Sonoma Water to offset the fees of residential, agricultural, school and other groundwater users in the unincorporated areas of the Santa Rosa Plain basin. Annual fees for those users will likely be lower, in the $1.99-$9.95 range, but will not have to be revisited for another three years.
The ordinance went into effect on July 13, and will be rolled out over three years as the GSA refines its well database. Starting in January 2020, all groundwater users in the Santa Rosa Plain will receive notice that their well has been registered in the program.
While there is currently no discussion of a fee to be assessed on groundwater users in the Sonoma Valley, the Sonoma Valley GSA is hoping to capitalize on the Santa Rosa GSA’s efforts when it comes to well registration.
“The reality is whatever is developed for Santa Rosa Plain, we would probably use in Petaluma and Sonoma Valley,” said Dubay. Petaluma also has a GSA, responsible for groundwater sustainability from Penngrove to the San Pablo Bay. It would be smart and effective for Petaluma and Sonoma Valley to have input on the development of a database and infrastructure they will probably use in the future, she added. The board approved spending up to $5,000 to participate as the registration program is developed. Having a uniform system used by all three GSAs will also simplify the process for landowners who have property in multiple basins or landowners who have property that straddles two basins. Knowing data was lacking, $30,000 had already been earmarked for a well registration program when the Sonoma GSA approved its 2019-2020 budget in April.
A specific roll out plan and timeline for the registration program in Sonoma Valley will be discussed at future board meetings, but it will most likely be similar to what the Santa Rosa Plain GSA is doing:
People will be notified by mail when their well has been registered in the program. They will not be required to take any action, but can voluntarily share information with the GSA about their well, water quality issues and groundwater use. Program participation is free.
The Sonoma Valley GSA is still in the process of gathering scientific data and documenting the current groundwater conditions of the basin. By November, the board expects to start discussing possible management areas and will hold a public workshop in January 2020. Any monitoring and fees, should the board choose to pursue those, will not likely be discussed until December 2020 or January 2021.
For more information on the Santa Rosa Plain’s program, visit santarosaplaingroundwater.org. For more information on Sonoma Valley GSA, visit sonomavalleygroundwater.org. All board meetings are open to the public.
Opening on Advisory CommitteeThe Sonoma Valley GSA Board is seeking applicants to fill its “business community representative” seat on the six-person Advisory Committee. The board has expressed interest to fill the seat with a representative who has knowledge of and interest in the 8th Street East area of Sonoma, which faces groundwater challenges. The 30-day application period will open Aug. 1 and the application can be found at sonomavalleygroundwater.org.
Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.